Thursday, October 13, 2011

Halloween Havoc: WOLFGUY ENRAGED LYCANTHROPE (1975)

The Japanese are a fascinating people. They have an island all to themselves and it seems like the centuries of isolation has given the country a case of cabin fever unlike anywhere else. A country obsessed with social and sexual taboos is the same one that gives the public vending machines that dispense erm... “fragrant” women’s undergarments. To Western eyes their culture while in many ways refined, delicate and elegant, can be incomprehensibly bizarre. This oddness spills over into their cinema and for every Akira Kurosawa, there is a Kiyoshi Kurosawa lurking in the background causing western audiences to stumble away from their sofas, glassy-eyed with incomprehension. This is what makes Japanese cinema great.

Back in the days before digital video when there were independent filmmakers Westerners turned out some fine off-beat movies that defied conventions and made a crapload of profits in the process. In Japan even the majors took those risks. While Toho stuck to the path of the easily accessible mainstream film, their top competitor Toei took risks. Toei happily wallowed in exploitation cinema didn’t seem to fret too much if their movie was so weird it defied description. WOLFGUY ENRAGED is a perfect example of this.

Hard-bitten reporter Inugami (Sonny Chiba) witnesses a crazed man running through the neon-lit streets screaming something about a curse and a tiger, and is suddenly torn to shreds by invisible claws. Taking the dead man’s story about the curse totally seriously (how could you not?), and finding that the coroner ruled the death a case of “Death by Spectral Slashing” (well, yeah, of course), Inugami sets out to investigate. As he discovers, Miki, the singer for the band The Mugs, was raped, given syphilis, addicted to heroin and has some sort of power that allows her to attack people with her mind and tear them apart with an invisible tiger. The rape was performed by a gang (look quick for Tomisaburo Wakayama as one of the main offenders) who were paid to do it by the band's management company because Miki was getting an attitude problem (yeah I'm sure having her gang-raped and infected with a venereal disease will help with that). As it turns out, the insidious orders may go higher than the streets and into the halls of public office.

Not content, like any other filmmaker, to let the story lie there, Inugami is also a descendant of a village of lycanthropes who were massacred by an angry mob. His form of lycanthropy (seemingly necessitated by the lack of budget) makes the movie all the more strange; on a full moon Inugami becomes unkillable and boasts superhuman strength, but doesn't change appearance at all. A sinister group, who I'm guessing is Yakuza (it's never made clear or something was lost in the translation), wants to use both Miki as a brainwashed assassin and Inugami to help them create more lycan killers via his blood and organs. Of course the filmmakers don’t sit down and tell you this, no, no. This information is doled out a piece here and a piece there, some in flashback, letting the viewer piece it together as the movie jumps from one scene to another, inexplicably switching locations, introducing new characters out of nowhere, launching into bloody fights and throwing additional wrinkles into a story that already has more than a litter of shar-peis in a bingo hall. Of course, ss far as I'm concerned, that's one of the things that makes this movie so much fun.




Never released on video, even in Japan, the only way to see this movie is from a recording of a rare, uncut Japanese TV broadcast. Information on this film is about as scarce as the movie itself. Based on the manga of the same name, this appears to be the author’s attempt to do justice to his own work. In ’73 Toho released an adaptation titled WOLFGUY – WOLFEN CREST, that while plenty violent, doesn’t follow the plotlines of graphic novels and aims for a teen audience. Here with ENRAGED, the film is clearly cobbled together from bits and pieces of the original work, but makes it seem as if it was made on the fly without a script. For example, early in the film Inugami tangles with a gang who murder his friend, a fellow reporter. After being shot in the arm and running for his life, a leather-clad motorcycle girl picks him up, takes him home, strips naked and seduces him, all while he’s bleeding out on her bed. The girl eventually shows up later in the movie, but writer Hirai Kazumasa has no problem letting you scratch your head for an hour wondering what the hell that was all about. In another scene Inugami is fighting an assassin who whips a white mouse out of his back pocket to distract Inugami, allowing him to get the upper hand. If you are a fan of the manga, I’m sure you could probably tell me which volume and page number this is from, but if you have never seen them before, this is the last thing you expect to see in the middle of a brutal tight-quarters rope-fight! And speaking of brawls there are lots of ‘em. It is certainly not lost on Toei that Sonny Chiba made them an assload of cash and catapulted himself to international stardom with the previous year’s THE STREETFIGHTER trilogy and THE EXECUTIONER films. For an investigative journalist Inugami is one lethal ass-kickin’ machine!

Yes! You're killin' me with this awful crop-job!

It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.
While this movie may not make much sense to those who, like me, have never read the manga, it’s still totally captivating for some reason. Part of it is that it moves so fast and throws so much at you in a mere 86 minutes, that it’s almost like an assault on the senses. Before you are through scratching your head about why Miki is singing a lounge ballad in a strip-club in front of some very angry patrons, you’ll be thrust right into another bloody slashing or back-ally fight. In addition to that you have some great film-noir settings and cinematography (that is somewhat neutered by the cropped TV broadcast), a cool, funky ‘70s score and Sonny Chiba being a bullet-proof bad-ass! What more do you really need?




Moments of Clarity:

2 Reactions:

  1. As with most of your articles, I end up laughing so hard until tears started pouring. Well done.

    Thank you for bringing this film to my attention. It is just how you described. Oddly captivating from beginning to end. This film should be seen by all trash cinema lovers. I hope this gets a proper release some day. Even without subtitles it would be a treat to see WOLFGUY in it's intended aspect ratio.

    What a bummer they didn't attempt a Paul Naschy'esque transformation at the end. Had Sonny Chiba been flying around with wolfman makeup, I think I could have stopped watching movies as there would be nothing left to see.

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  2. Hey thanks for the feedback, glad you liked it. Yeah, I'm totally on the fence about the lack of transformation. On the one hand it would have been amazingly cool to have Chiba do the full-on wolfman thing, but on the other hand the movie feels so freaking bizarre without one, I kind of dig that.

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