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Schlock & Awe: WOLF GUY, a Japanese Horror-Action-Mystery

Schlock & Awe: WOLF GUY, a Japanese Horror-Action-Mystery

Strange that, no matter how much trends change, the more they stay the same. I’ve been getting more and more into Japanese cinema, and genre cinema specifically, over the past few years (I’ve already written about Lady Snowblood and Lone Wolf & Cub, for example). It seems in the ’70s, the Japanese film industry was producing far fewer movies than they did before, and due to the upswing in foreign films in Japan, studios needed to ensure their movies were hits, turning to proven commodities (like manga, as with the aforementioned films) for their subject matter. Sounds pretty familiar, eh? Well, one of these manga-based movies that sadly didn’t light Japan on fire—but is hella weird—is 1975’s Wolf Guy.

Based on the manga by Kazumasa Hirai and illustrated by Hisashi Sakaguchi, Wolf Guy was actually the second movie based on the work, the first being 1973’s even-less-warmly-received Horror of the Wolf. What we get with Wolf Guy, though, is an attempt to mix all sorts of popular American genres, from hard-boiled detective to espionage thriller to straight up horror. There’s some martial arts thrown in for good measure—thanks in no small part to the casting of Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba, famous for starring in The Street Fighter films of the early-70s and known for playing Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill. Chiba acts as a grounding force in the movie, which is absolutely bonkers for pretty much its entire runtime.

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Chiba plays the titular Wolf Guy (not even IMDb has character names for anybody), the last son of a race of werewolves hunted and destroyed because they’re different, who’s moved to the big city to become a private detective. As you do. Early on in the movie, some members of a specific Yakuza club begin dying one by one, torn to shreds by what they claim is a tiger. Wolf Guy witnesses one such death, but the wounds appear out of nowhere, as though done by a ghost.

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His investigation into the deaths leads him down a rabbit hole of revenge, shady government types, and underworld kingpins, the way you’d expect any hard-boiled novel by Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane to go. Except when our hero gets hit by moonlight (or sunlight, at the end) he has superpowers tied to his lycanthropy. Other than his constantly ’70s-Eddie Munster-ish hair and the occasional sprouting of fangs, most of his werewolf powers just amount to super strength…and the ability to absorb bullet wounds. Oh, and suck his guts back into his body when he’s disemboweled by scientists eager to see what makes a werewolf tick.

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Eventually, Wolf Guy figures out the phantom tiger is the work of a curse, centered around a woman who was horribly, horribly wronged by the members of the criminal club. She’s out for revenge and is manifesting a tiger, visible only to the victim, to do it. But it goes much deeper than that; Wolf Guy finds out that she is merely a pawn in a scheme by a secret organization to exploit her powers for political assassinations, and they want to do the same to Wolf Guy. He ain’t gonna have that, now is he?

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Wolf Guy is such a weird and bizarrely enjoyable movie. It’s got a very strange pacing to it, owing to it following several issues of the manga very closely, and characters who are important at the beginning disappearing to never return. (Some important characters don’t even show up until the last act.) There’s a through line of Wolf Guy being an exceptionally good lover—because he’s a “wild animal,” you guys—and so he gets it on with quite a few ladies, but near the end of the movie he goes to visit the wooded area his clan used to live, is persecuted, then meets a girl who says she’s on his side and they fall madly in love. This is seriously in the last like 20 minutes of this 85 minute movie. And it doesn’t end happily, even then.

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It also—though clearly played with complete sincerity—has some hilariously over the top violence. It’s not quite The Story of Ricky level of gore, but it’s pretty close. The movie was directed by journeyman Toei Studios director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, who, when interviewed for the recent Arrow Films Blu-ray release, confessed he didn’t really care for this movie and had forgotten pretty much everything about it. And this is coming from the guy who directed stuff like Karate Warriors, Karate Bullfighter, and Karate Bear Fighter.

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Above is the Japanese theatrical poster for Wolf Guy, and it’s so amazing I really wanted to draw attention to it. Clearly they’re trying to evoke a James Bond feel here, which dude sleeping with tons of chicks aside, the movie absolutely does not have. He at no point wears that baller white tuxedo with the hugest cravat I’ve ever seen in my life (a real shame) and though he does hold a gun, it’s not that gun. But the movie has one of the funkiest, wakka-chicka scores of any movie I’ve ever seen, and weirdly this poster feels like the still-image equivalent of that music.

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As I said, Wolf Guy is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow, and it’s got some nice extras and interviews, including part one of a series of career-retrospective interviews with Sonny Chiba. This release came only a few weeks before Arrow’s release of Doberman Cop, another Sonny Chiba movie based on a manga that, despite the title, actually does not feature any cops that turn into dobermans. (Just a cop from the sticks who solves a murder and carries a big gun.) It’s straight forward and made by the excellent director, Kinji Fukasaku (of Battles Without Honor and Humanity and Message from Space), though honestly, Wolf Guy is the movie you’ll have more fun with.

Images: Toei Studios/Arrow Films

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He writes the weekly look at weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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