Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Writer: Kazumasa Hirai, Fumio Konami
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Rikiya Yasuoka, Saburo Date, Koji Fujiyama, Tooru Hanada, Ryuji Hayami, Jiro Ibuki, Harukui Jo, Kenji Kawai, Hiroshi Kondo, Koji Miemachi, Etsuko Nami, Yoshio Neshima
Running Time: 86 min.
By Kyle Warner
There are two types of film fans in the world; those who learn of Sonny Chiba’s 1975 werewolf action movie Wolf Guy with a “Huh?” and those who almost immediately plunk down $20 so that they can watch the newly unearthed gem. I belong to the latter group. As a fan of Japanese cinema with something of a soft spot for Sonny Chiba’s hissing karate master persona, the idea of him sorting out justice as a well-armed werewolf is basically irresistible. I went into the movie expecting something weird. And even so, I was unprepared for the level of weird that I got.
Wolf Guy is that rare sort of movie that can make a sober man feel drunk. The plot operates with a devil-may-care sense of abandon, the camera sees the world at tilted angles, visions of superimposed murder cats come spiraling out of the gloom, ninja cops leap out of the walls… the viewer is left dazed and confused.
In Wolf Guy, Sonny Chiba is a wolf man named Akira. He doesn’t look like a wolf man, never transforms or dons special makeup, and only occasionally shows animalistic traits (landing on all fours in a fight, for example), but trust me: he’s a wolf man. I know this only because the film’s characters keep reminding us of the fact. No one seems particularly surprised to be sharing the earth with a werewolf, though. Akira’s wolf man lineage is so easily accepted that I thought I’d missed something. Strengthened by a full moon but otherwise no different in appearance from any other Sonny Chiba hero, the titular Wolf Guy is more like a superhero vigilante than the typical werewolf from myth and lore. (The film’s full title is Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope. Simply knowing the term ‘lycanthrope’ is about as close as the film comes to embracing werewolf mythology.)
More interesting than the wolf guy is the phantom tiger. At the start of the film, a rock star played by Rikiya Yasuoka (Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter) stumbles into traffic screaming about a tiger that means to kill him. “Miki turned into a tiger!” Sonny Chiba’s sleuth reporter Akira intercepts the troubled man only moments before Rikiya’s shirt is torn open with deep, bloody cuts running down his chest and back. Akira is brought in as the only suspect but is quickly released when the autopsy reveals that the rocker was likely killed by a demon. The coroner’s straight-faced reading of cause of death: demon is the first sign that we’re operating in a different sort of reality here.
Akira follows the clues. The rock band known as the Mobs raped a girl named Miki. Now, somehow, Miki’s fury has manifested as a vengeful ghost tiger that tears her enemies to shreds. As Akira gets closer to Miki, a mysterious evil organization that’s part Yakuza part Blofeld starts closing in on them. Not only do the bad guys want to manipulate Miki’s rage for their own benefit, they hope to extract the wolf guy’s blood to create a wolf guy of their own (“I received a transfusion of your blood and became a wolf man, too,” is one of my favorite lines of the script).
Akira encounters many other women in his attempts to rescue Miki from her strange fate. And all of these women want to get naked with him almost immediately. At first, it just seems like the film’s attempt to meet a certain skin quota, but some of it soon becomes a bit, err, odd. Like when one lady wants to sleep with him because she wants to have sex with an animal. Um. And in a later part, a lady shoves her boobs into Sonny Chiba’s face and he falls in love with her because she reminds him of his Mom. Uhh. But to be clear, the film always felt a bit trashy and nasty right from the start. It’s just that it finds a way to become more so as it goes on.
Directing the film is B-movie favorite Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, who worked with Sonny Chiba previously on Sister Street Fighter and the underrated Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2. In an interview included on the new disc from Arrow, Yamaguchi admits to not being a big fan of the werewolf sub-genre. It shows. But that’s not to say that he fails to come up with some crazy visuals and ideas. The manner in which Miki’s tiger slashes her enemies to death calls to mind A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Kreuger, who would not make his screen debut for another nine years. Another image that’s impossible to forget is the wolf guy’s healing powers, which includes a shot that shows Sonny Chiba’s intestines getting sucked back into his stomach after being mortally wounded. Yamaguchi’s weird visuals, coupled with a wicked 70’s funk soundtrack, make Wolf Guy hard to forget.
Wolf Guy has been newly unearthed for fans in the US and UK and released on DVD and Blu-ray. The picture and sound are both impressive, I thought. Three new interviews recorded in 2016 are included as special features. The first, talking with director Yamaguchi, shares a bit about his film career and his fairly reluctant decision to adapt Wolf Guy to film. The second interview is with producer Toru Yoshida, who specialized in B-movies for Toei. He expresses some regret in not making Wolf Guy a better film with a bigger budget, but also shares a laugh remembering how much Wolf Guy’s manga creator hated the film. Finally, we get a new interview with Sonny Chiba, which does not speak on Wolf Guy in particular but rather has the actor sharing his views on acting, learning the craft, and how difficult it is to throw a fake punch. Sonny Chiba’s always a fun interview subject, because he’s so clearly passionate about his craft, and this interview is no different.
Part male wish fulfillment, part martial arts movie, and part gonzo anything-goes entertainment as only the Japanese film industry could dream up, Wolf Guy is a bizarre piece of work. It’s silly stuff, but I had a good time.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10