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The werewolf who wasn't a werewolf
Loves: Cult films
Likes: '70s films, Japanese freak-outs, Arrow Films
Dislikes: Crime dramas
Hates: false advertising
Though the box says Wolf Guy, the title of this Japanese film, loosely adapted from a popular manga, is actually Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope, and if you were unaware, a lycanthrope is more commonly referred to as a werewolf. So, while watching Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope, you might--understandably--expect to see a werewolf at some point. And if you did, you would wind up disappointed.
Not so much with the movie, which is unique and frequently nutty enough to be pleasing, but with the generally lack of werewolves. Sure, lead actor and martial-arts film icon Sonny Chiba does a fine job of approximating the "enraged" portion of the title, but no one comes away from Wolf Guy with their lycanthropic itch scratched, as there are none of the traditional furry-faced transformations to be had. Instead, the film heaps on plenty of attractive lady bits, adorably lo-fi opticals and some fantastically funky music to raise a somewhat by-the-numbers action flick into consideration as a cult classic.
The wackiness of the film doesn't hurt either, with a severely twisted concept wrapped in the trappings of a traditional tough-guy journey, blending several genres along the way. Chiba finds himself drawn into a mystery as a random stranger is torn to pieces in front of him by an unseen force. Digging deeper, he finds it's part of a series of mysterious deaths that seem connected to a woman named Miki, who draws him even deeper. That may sound pretty normal, but there's a lot going on here that's better left to discover when watching the film, and suffice it to say, you won't expect what's coming (often because it doesn't make much sense, including the hero's origin, that of his chief foe and what exactly makes him a werewolf.)
Under the direction of genre expert Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (who brought us classics like Sister Street Fighter and Delinquent Girl Boss), Wolf Guy is as much a blend of visual styles as it is a mix of genres. Yamaguchi delivers beautifully composed frames befitting arthouse cinema (including some flashbacks that recall the work of the greats of Japanese film) and smashes them up against graphic grand guignol gore, creating a feel that puts the viewer off-balance and accentuates the film's oddities. The fight scenes, though occasionally awkward late in the game, are generally energetic, while the supposedly erotic moments are only really notable for the beauty of the actresses involved.
Though Chiba can certainly carry the film a long way with his fighting skill and screen presence, the latter third of the film does him no favors, as the story gets thin, unable to maintain momentum thanks to a plot that stretches on without much motivation. With a psychedelic feel and a lack of concern for reality, it would be easy to see this film setting the internet on fire with an [adult swim] airing (if nudity was allowed), as it's got that brand of chaotic surrealism, but it runs out of gas (and purpose) before it fades to black. It's a heck of a ride along the way though.
Wolf Guy is a two-disc release (one Blu-ray, one DVD), packed in a clear, slightly-wider than standard keepcase, with a two-sided cover that has the fastastic original poster art on the inside. The discs feature Arrow's clean menu design, which offers options to watch the film, adjust languages and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English.
The 2.35:1, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer here is clean and, with a healthy grain structure, looks appropriately cinematic, which makes for a solid presentation of a film that, thanks to its age and low profile, could have been lost to time and mishandling. Though it's not the sharpest-looking film and fine detail isn't dramatic, the color is well-saturated, particularly the bright reds of the fake-looking blood frequently tossed around, while black levels are solid and there are no issues with digital distractions.
The 1.0 LPCM track does right by the film, ensuring voices are clear, while the sound effects are in the forefront, to ensure they power the action appropriately. The key here however is the music. Oh that glorious score. The track brings all that funk with nice clarity and strength, making for a fun listen that enhances the film's bizarre feel.
The extras here are a bit light for the traditionally thorough Arrow, but what is here--a trio of interviews in Japanese with subtitles--is good, starting with "Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 1", a 14:30 interview with the star, in which he talks about the difference between American and Japanese films, how he crafts a stunt and his theories on acting, screen fighting and training the next generation. There's not much connected to the film at hand, but it's an interesting chat nonetheless.
Director Yamaguchi gets a chance to talk as well, in the 10:31 "Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts". Though he has little memory or opinion of Wolf Guy, he covers a lot of ground in discussing genre filmmaking, working with Chiba and the challenge of working with small budgets.
In a similar vein, the 17:30 "Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master" allows the prolific Toei producer to reminisce on his filmmaking career, giving tremendous insight into the history of the Japanese film industry, including his battles with studio heads and budgets. It's almost worth watching just to see the fantastic old movie posters used to illustrate the piece.
The on-disc extras wrap with the film's trailer (2:54), an efficient promo that touches on all the film has to offer, with no fear of spoiling anything, as that would be almost impossible.
The first pressing of this set includes a 36-page booklet with info on the film and disc, along with in-depth essays from TokyoScope author Patrick Macias (on Wolf Guy's low profile) and Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp, who focuses on Japanese monster movies. With stills and poster art, its an attractive, informative extra.
The Bottom Line
Though Wolf Guy peters out in the end, with a lack of a satisfying ending and a home stretch that feels tacked on at best, there's a lot to like about it if you enjoy stylish nonsense, street fighting, beautiful Japanese women and funky beats. Arrow has done their usual impressive job of giving forgotten films a quality presentation, but just remember: there are no real werewolves.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.