Take Dawn of the Dead, Dead Alive, and Rock 'n Roll High School, toss them in a Japanese blender, mash "Puree", and you'll wind up with something remarkably similar to Wild Zero. Tetsuro Takeuchi's rock 'n roll zombie flick had already netted a rabid legion of fans even before making any sort of moderately wide theatrical splash or getting an official home video release stateside, and now Synapse Films is bringing it to DVD. It's proven to be immensely popular as well since its October release: the reason this is being written so long after the disc originally hit stores is that distributors gobbled up so many copies that there weren't enough leftovers to send off for review.
Wild Zero is about style, not a deep, life-enriching plot, but I'll give a synopsis a stab anyway. The movie stars Ramones-influenced garage rockers Guitar Wolf as themselves. A head-popping, digit-dropping encounter with the exploitive Captain in his office after a gig earns the band a determined new foe, as well as a new friend. Ace, a devoted fan who stumbles onto the scene, is given a magic whistle to contact Guitar Wolf in times of crisis and becomes their frontman's rock 'n roll blood brother. This starts to set up several different running stories that eventually become intertwined. Ace (who is, incidentally, number one!) befriends the shy, faint-prone Tobio, who has a big (that's just a guess; maybe it's not so big) secret. Ace meets her when he accidentally busts up a robbery at a gas station, sending Maseo, master of the butterfly knives, and his witless pals packing. Finally, there's a cash-toting business tooling through the barren landscape to collect goods from a money-hungry underground arms dealer. Then, um...well, anyway, it all leads up to everyone getting attacked by zombies, and we all learn a little something about courage and rock 'n roll.
Guitar Wolf as a band looks at music from the past and incorporates elements of that into their work, resulting in songs that are familiar in some ways yet distinctively original. Wild Zero as a film does the same, wearing some of its obvious inspirations on its sleeve, but at the same time, there's little else like it. There are innumerable exploding heads...laser guitar picks, electric eye blasts, a mic that flames burst out from, and the best use of a red electric guitar as a weapon this side of Slumber Party Massacre 2. Thrill to mop-fu, crowbar-fu, and, hell, bazooka-fu. It has a lead who keeps a guitar slung across his shoulder at all times, one of the most unconventional shower scenes ever captured on film, transgender love, an undead romance, and even the timeless "gold ball in the headless, lifeless zombie gut" routine. It's bizarre, hilarious, and brimming with explosive, splatter-filled action sequences. Because of the near-total lack of plot, things do drag a bit when there's no surreality or intenstine-chomping on-screen, but those moments are very few and far between. Wild Zero is the rare type of infectiously fun movie that the instant the credits end started to roll, I immediately wanted to round up everyone I know and force this on them. Synapse Films has given the movie a solid release on DVD, and if the summary above sounds the least bit intriguing, I'd highly recommend adding this disc to your collection.
Video: Wild Zero uses the same transfer as the Japanese DVD, letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 rather than the 1.85:1 listed on the packaging. Although at least some of the PAL DVDs released in Europe are apparently in anamorphic widescreen, a quick skim through the dismal reviews of their image quality makes them sound like a shoddy upconverting job. Synapse Films' Don May, Jr. reported on the Mobius Home Video Forum that he inquired with the Japanese licensor, but the original elements necessary to prepare a proper anamorphic widescreen presentation were unfortunately not available. While the lack of 16x9-enhancement may come as a mild disappointment, this is still a respectable transfer. The image is nice and sharp, with a couple of speckles and a level of film grain that seems in check for such a low-budget production. There's some slight shimmer around some objects, such as the edge of a window in the backseat of a car and the gunrunner's one-piece in an early warehouse appearance, which I only mention because I run the risk of getting my Net.Reviewer License revoked if I don't gripe about something.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, encoded at a bitrate of 192Kbps, presents the film in its original Japanese, with optional English subtitles. It's pretty robust, with some nice stereo separation in sequences heavy on music or gut-munching. Guitar Wolf's brand of rock is raw and lo-fi, and it's presented on this DVD about as well as can be expected, and other bands on the soundtrack with more polished production have a cleaner, fuller sound. Activity in the lower frequencies varies, depending on the band behind the garage-punk music or the particular sound effect blasting at the time. My familiarity with Japanese is limited to what I've learned from Styx 45s, but the dialogue sounds pretty good, with portions having a distinctively looped quality to them.
Supplements: Like a handful of other DVDs with a drinking game as an extra, Wild Zero rattles off a textual list of rules in the 'Special Features' menu, such as taking a drink whenever "fire shoots out of anything" or someone combs their hair. What Wild Zero offers that I hadn't seen before is an option to have a beer mug flash on-screen at the appropriate time, and as outlandish as some of the rules may sound, that icon appears so frequently that the nation's streets are destined to be littered with the bodies of ill-fated viewers with alcohol poisoning and distended livers.
There's also a letterboxed theatrical trailer and a two and a half minute behind-the-scenes music video. Most of the remaining extras are centered around the band, beginning with a bio to bring the uninitiated up to speed on Guitar Wolf as well as a discography. An eclectic still galllery consists of 45 or so shots that include promotional and production stills, the band performing on-stage, scans of some of their albums, and overseas Wild Zero releases. A hidden Easter Egg contains a seven minute interview with all three members of Guitar Wolf, conducted by Shatter Dead helmer Scooter McCrae and Image Entertainment's Marc Walkow.
Some of the extras on the original Japanese DVD aren't duplicated apparently because of licensing and language issues, such as the prohibitive cost of subtitling its commentary track. One definite improvement that sets this DVD of Wild Zero apart from some of the overseas releases is the excellent cover art, which has kind of an underground comic book flavor that greatly complements the film. Its 4x3 menus are animated and has some of Guitar Wolf's fuzzy rock and roll blasting underneath, and the keepcase has an insert listing the movie's fourteen chapter stops inside.
Conclusion: By far the best Japanese rock-and-roll zombie splatter-comedy fat-packed with action on the market today, Synapse Films' release of Wild Zero is highly recommended.
Boring Image Disclaimer: The screen captures in this review are compressed and just meant as eye candy, and they don't necessarily reflect the appearance of the movie on DVD.