Sorry Remo Williams.
Welcome to Missed Connections, a weekly column where I get to highlight films that are little known and/or unfairly maligned. I’ll be shining a light in two directions — I hope to introduce you to movies you’ve never seen and possibly never heard of, and I’ll attempt to defend films that history, critical consensus, and maybe even your own memories haven’t been very kind to.
This week’s movie is a mid ’70s genre-bender from Japan that delivers action, bloodletting, sexy shenanigans, and a healthy dose of WTF bliss. Say hello to Sonny Chiba‘s Wolf Guy.
Akira Inugami (Chiba) is a crime-solving bad-ass who’s friends with neither the police nor the gangland thugs running the nastier parts of the city. He crosses their paths though when he witnesses a man ranting in the street about a tiger just moments before his flesh and clothing are torn open as if by invisible claws. Digging deep into the mystery Inugami discovers a young woman named Miki (Etsuko Nami) at the heart of other similar attacks. Once a wide-eyed innocent, abuse at the hands of a popular rock group ruined her life and left her hungry for both smack and revenge.
That’s already more than enough for a feature film to focus on, but Wolf Guy‘s just getting started. Did I mention Inugami is the last survivor of a clan of lycanthropes? He watched as a toddler as his village was destroyed and his people slaughtered — and we watch the memory unfold during the opening credits — and now as an adult his heightened abilities lend themselves to his work and often help him out of tight situations.
What manner of abilities you ask? He’s strong, he can do flips, he can make his exposed intestines retreat back into his body purely through willpower, and he throws quarters like nobody’s business. The one thing this wolf guy doesn’t do? Turn into a wolf man.
The decision by director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (Sister Street Fighter) and writer Fumio Kônami (Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion) to avoid having their lycanthrope ever actually transform is only one of the film’s many terrifically odd choices. The plot grows well beyond a simple tale of revenge to include a government conspiracy involving the J-CIA, dumbwaiter ninjas, targeted assassinations, and more. It’s an absolute blast from beginning to end.
Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope (the full onscreen title) isn’t the first film based on the popular manga/novels that first introduced the character if Inugami as a tamer, more direct adaptation called Crest of the Wolf hit screens two years earlier. While that film kept the teenage protagonist and themes Wolf Guy succeeds by going the far more entertaining exploitation route. Flesh is torn asunder, blood flows freely, and action sequences embrace violence and absurdity with equal affection. A quarry fight sees Inugami shot repeatedly before flipping and somersaulting his way through multiple explosions to take out the bad guys with fists, feet, and lupine attitude. Sex is equally omnipresent as he out Bond’s Bond and beds several women subsequently doomed to die. A sexy motorcyclist, a fur-clad village girl, and Miki herself all pull at his loins with the villager triggering certain memories of his own mother as he fondles and kisses the young woman’s breasts.
Typical Wolf Guy.
The film is a constant onslaught of memorable visuals and energetic camera moves, and the score (by Hiroshi Baba) keeps apace an array of wicked and moody guitar/bass riffs. We get some jazzy piano too, but the it’s the guitar work that feels at times like a Goblin score as interpreted by a progressive ’70s rock band.
There are some interesting and surprising narrative themes at play here too, and the common thread is a nihilism towards humanity that would have made for a fantastic franchise character. Imagine a private eye who takes on cases despite not giving a single solitary shit about the fate of mankind. It would be glorious. Inugami is that character. He’s already removed from humanity by his biology, but through the course of the film we see his view of people diminish further as they do horrific things to Miki and attempt to steal his wolf-like essence (which they then transfuse into the guy pictured at the top of the page). The film’s final shot is no accident as a triumphant, but now alone, Inugami throws a gun at the camera. It’s man’s weapon, not his, and he no longer needs it.
There’s a tragedy to Miki’s story too as it blends the familiar rape/revenge tale with a supernatural edge and fallout that would feel at home in an X-Men comic. She lost her life and love to the band’s assault, and after her phantom tiger ability is discovered she’s forced into further atrocities by government agents. They keep her hooked on drugs and constantly remind her of the abuse she’s suffered, and then they target her rage on those they want eliminated. She’s the “monster,” but she’s also the victim whose suffering breaks our heart.
Not that the film pauses the ridiculous fun to play tiny violins for her.
Wolf Guy has lived in the shadows for over forty years, but happily for those of us who love awesome things the fine folks at Arrow Video have just released the film to Blu-ray with a remastered picture and a trio of new interviews with director Yamaguchi, producer Toru Yoshida, and star Chiba. The actor star’s interview is marked as part one meaning more Chiba goodness is most likely on the way from Arrow.
Follow along every Monday with Missed Connections .
Buy Wolf Guy on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.