AKA URUGU GAI: MOERO OKAMI-OTOKOU
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 85 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Akira Inugami is the only survivor of a clan of ancient werewolves who were massacred by humans. Now, he solves mysteries and fights crime with the aid of his supernatural powers, powers which are at their peak whenever it is a full moon. One evening as he walks down a crowded street, he sees a man running in fear from a seemingly invisible tiger that then slashes him to death. He discovers that others have been killed in similar fashion, and finds out that the victims were all members of a band which gang raped a cabaret singer and gave her syphilis. Could she be responsible? And why are politicians, the yakuza and a secret government organisation involved?
While Wolf Guy is certainly not a neglected classic, Arrow Video really have given cult movie lovers something of a treat here, because this is the first time the movie has been legally released outside of Japan, an odd thing because I reckon this highly eccentric piece of cinema would have garnered a bit of a following if it had come out, especially considering it stars Mr Streetfighter himself. While the true origins of the film lie in the Wolf Guy manga series, this Toei production is actually an unofficial sequel to a Toho film called Horror Of The Wolf directed by Jun Fukuda who made four Godzilla pictures, and in that one our hero does actually turn into a werewolf. I found it odd that he doesn’t do so in this one, a film which is actually subtitled Enraged Lycanthrope, though the whole film is odd so complaining about odd details is really irrelevant. It takes the form of a supernaturally tinged detective story for much of the time, but goes increasingly off the rails as it brings in horror, martial arts, science fiction and romantic elements, and there are times where you’re not sure where it’s going, which is generally a good thing in my book, though there’s also a sense of screenwriter Fumio Konami making things up as he went along, or trying to cram a lengthy story into 85 minutes.
“The tiger is coming, I’ll get killed, the tiger will get me” cries the guy running from something in the opening sequence which is shot with a very shaky camera, a guy who’s then messily killed in the first of several extremely bloody killings with pretty convincing effects work. Our hero uses some kind of mental power and sees a superimposed tiger in the sky, and then you find out even more that this film takes place in its own strange world when the coroner calmly says that the cause of death is a demon. Now one thing I couldn’t really figure out is exactly what Akira actually is. He’s obviously some kind of crime solver, but we’re not given any specifics. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Anyway, we then get the opening titles under which a black and white flashback shows humans wiping out the Inugami, ending with a rather powerful moment of the infant Akira’s mother being shot and him by her dead body. I have the slight feeling that these flashbacks [we get a couple more later] come from another film, but never mind. Akira commences his investigation of the bizarre killing and a reporter friend informs that it’s one of several similar deaths of men who all belonged to a band. Could Miki Ogata, a singer who was sexually assaulted by the band members and given syphilis [very sensitive, these films], be responsible for what seems to be a kind of curse? The answer is very obvious very early on, but we still need to know why the horrid event took place in the first place, and why yakuza boss Keiichi Manabe and his group seem to be after Akira. In his first encounter with them, he’s rescued by a mysterious woman who then can’t wait to sleep with him, lustfully sucking the blood off his fingers and saying: “Right now, I’m just a woman who wants an animal”. Fair enough.
As you’ve probably gathered, it’s best not to try to take Wolf Guy too seriously, and to just have fun with it. The storyline isn’t bad though for the first half at least, but then answers most of our questions [though the exact nature of the tiger curse is left very vague] within 45 or so minutes – which means that the film then has to change a bit. Akira is captured by a group who perform some surgery on him while he’s totally awake – and some shots of this is actually real medical footage though shot by a camera which makes everything look a bright colour – which seems to involve putting part of his insides into another guy so he has similar powers. I won’t tell any more of the story, but it makes little sense and sometimes seems to jump forward rapidly. There’s some surprising tragedy towards the end though, and some of the scenes throughout the film involving the tragic character of the heroin-addicted, disease ridden Miki are surprisingly powerful, sctress Etsuko Shihoni becoming very melodramatic but actually quite believable given the circumstances. Wolf Guy is basically an exploitation film, with all the female actresses required to go topless [not that I’m complaining] almost immediately, but it does have some heart to it in places.
There are a few karate/judo fight sequences containing a few superhuman leaps and bounds, usually filmed handheld and having that unpolished feel that many Japanese martial arts movies at the cruder end of the scale tend to have. One of them amusingly takes place in front of a Steve McQueen poster which makes it look like he’s watching the combatants. Unfortunately, what appears to be the most epic of the fights, one between two wolf guys, is over almost immediately, though at least it ends in quite a unique way. However, Akira Inugami is undeniably a cool character that may appeal to lovers of Wolverine, though it’s kind of amusing that he has to be rescued three times by females, two of them being the same person whose supposed character arc in the film by the way is just plain random. In fact some people behave oddly throughout, and there’s even a weird incestuous element to one of Akira’s ‘relationships’, though in a movie like this you can’t really say that’s it’s out of place, or get offended.
Akira is played by Chiba with all the brooding intensity – always seeming like it’s going to explode into brutality – he can bring. While not even his many fans would probably consider him a great actor, there’s no doubt that he has immense charisma and totally owns the screen, particularly when he says nothing or very little in the manner of Clint Eastwood. One of his best moments is when Miki is talking to him at length and his face shows that he’s just listening, taking everything in, and deciding what to do. One of my favourite things about Wolf Guy is the far-out rock soundtrack from Hiroshi Baba [no, I haven’t heard of him either, but I want to hear more] with its odd riffs, improvisations and noises like a whooshing noise sounding like a laser. I want it on CD. Wolf Guy could have been more coherent and perhaps more exciting in places, particularly during its final reel, and – no – I’m sorry but it still bugs me – why didn’t they have Chiba actually turning into a werewolf? But it has a weird charm, and likers of cinematic strangeness should still need no further encouragement to check it out.
Probably having ran out of Blu-ray screener discs, Arrow only sent HCF a DVD, but it’s usually possible to approximate how the Blu-ray will look by playing the DVD on a Blu-ray player. The image seems to be rather soft but fine in terms of colour and contrast. The many night time scenes mostly look good. Arrow have produced three interviews which amount to arouns 40 minutes, the Chiba one being enticingly titled A Life In Action Volume 1. I wonder what Chiba film they will release next. We first come to a short interview with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi who talks about his early career and Wolf Guy, which he thinks would be better if made today with CGI. He even says that he didn’t want to make it. Producer Toru Yoshida also seems to be a bit bemused by Wolf Guy coming out on Blu-ray, and tells of how Kazumasa Hirai the writer of the manga disappeared from the first showing 15 minutes in. He’s more happy talking about his overall career and some of the other films he made. Chiba talks mostly about his Japanese Actors and Japanese Stuntmen clubs that he started up, his method of training them, and how to stage punches. He’s good value, though I wish he’d chatted more about his movies. I guess that’ll be next time.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
*High Definition digital transfer
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
*Original uncompressed mono audio
*New optional English subtitle translation
*Kzuhiko Yamaguchi: Movie With Guts
*Toru Yoshida: The Movie Master
*Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action Vol. 1
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Wes Benscoter
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Patrick Macias and a history of Japanese monster movie mashups by Jasper Sharp.