Wolf Guy Review
Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba - Japan’s answer to Bruce Lee - has had a career spanning more than four decades and starred in dozens of karate epics. Chiba’s legions of adoring fans include Quentin Tarantino - who mentions him in several movies, including True Romance, as well as casting his idol in Kill Bill. Chiba's fighting style may lack the grace of his Hong Kong counterpart, but you still wouldn't want to be on the end of one of those mighty high kicks. The fight choreography in these films left little margin for error and there were frequently nasty injuries on set. Better known for titles like Street Fighter, Wolf Guy is one of Chiba’s more rarely seen and most bizarre roles. The movie to give its full title is Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope, lest we confuse it with Lon Chaney's Wolf Man perhaps.
Wolf Guy begins with a distressed man staggering across a busy street crying “The Tiger is coming!” and muttering wildly about “Miki’s curse” before blood spurts violently from the many claw marks that suddenly - and inexplicably - appear across his body. Intrepid reporter Akira Inugami (Chiba) stares at the dying man with a look of total bewilderment, before covering the body with his coat. This is just in the pre-credits sequence of director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s decidedly weird genre mash-up, loosely based on Kazumasa Hirai’s manga series and released by Japan’s Toei studios during the 1970s boom in martial arts pictures. It is revealed that Akira is the last of the Inugami wolf clan, who we see slaughtered in a brief flashback sequence. On the 15th day of the lunar cycle, during a full moon, it is foretold that he will attain invincible powers. In the meantime, using his investigative alter-ego and possessing a permanent frown, Inugami is determined to find out the identity of the mysterious Miki and indeed why she is putting a curse on all the members of a group called the Mobs. During his quest, Inugami engages in inordinate amounts of combat with anyone who dare stand in his way, stopping only briefly to become more acquainted with a woman who falls for his wolf charms. When Miki is located in a seedy club it is revealed, via some swift exposition, that she was once an aspiring singer who was planning to wed a man named Junichi. Her partner’s shady politician father Fukunaka had other ideas though. Fukunaka conspires for his son to marry a girl whose father is a wealthy financier, in order to further his own ambitious career. As part of the evil plan it is arranged for the Mobs to assault Miki, leaving her infected with syphilis and later hooked on heroin. This has the desired effect on Junichi who is immediately scared off, leaving Miki broken hearted. What they haven’t bargained for is the woman’s extraordinary supernatural ability, which enables Miki’s ghostly tiger to exact bloody revenge on all those who have caused her suffering.
If the first act sounds outlandish, there's much more craziness to come. Later in the film after Inugami has saved Miki, they get captured by the nefarious J-CIA intent on harvesting his blood to create a rival wolf and harness her power as a weapon for their own uses. Fortunately this coincides with the full moon – but don’t expect any Rick Baker style transformation or elaborate Jack Pierce inspired make-up effects - the budget didn’t quite stretch that far. In fact Inugami looks exactly the same as he did before becoming the Wolf and is certainly no more hirsute. He does develop super strength – handy for bending open prison cell bars – and immunity to bullets. He is also capable of doing some nifty somersaults to boot. Escaping from the government laboratory, Inugami heads back to his home land high in the mountains. Here he meets Taka, a new love interest, who helps our hero fend off murderous hunters.
By the final act the film slips into slightly more conventional territory compared to what has gone before, with Inugami and Taka racing through a quarry to evade capture by government agents, weaving their way through explosions and dodging falling debris. If you wondered what has happened to Miki, she's turned against our hero for disappearing with another woman and returns to confront him in the big finale. He had better watch out for those tiger claws!
You’ve got to admire a film that manages to blend so many elements into one crazy mix - karate werewolves, spectral tigers, mad scientists, rampaging Yakuza - and plays it all completely straight. Don't miss the most obvious use of a dummy falling from a great height too. Genre fans will also have fun spotting many familiar faces from 1970s Japanese cinema, including Yayoi Watanabe and Kôji Fujiyama. As an exploitation movie Yamaguchi knows exactly what buttons to push and keeps Wolf Guy moving at a relentless pace. Anyone seeking subtlety or coherence should look elsewhere, but for fans of Chiba or those who enjoy offbeat Japanese B-movies this is an absolute must-see movie.
The film is presented in a clean 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, with only a slight hint of grain. There are no obvious signs of damage, such as specks and lines.
The soundtrack is in uncompressed Japanese mono, with optional English subtitles. The subtitling is clear and easy to follow.
Arrow have made a commendable effort tracking down several key people behind Wolf Guy for a set of interviews.
Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies With Guts (approx. 10 mins)
Yamaguchi graduated in 1959 and joined renowned Japanese studio Toei, but tells how he didn’t direct for a number of years, instead working as an assistant. He would later go on to make oodles of highly popular B-movie epics, like Lady Street Fighter. Yamaguchi explains that he hadn’t read manga and was unfamiliar with werewolf movies prior to taking on this project. Amusingly he still doesn’t know quite what to make of Wolf Guy.
Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master (approx. 18 mins)
Yoshida explains how he started out as a production co-ordinator at Toei and grew quite despondent with this role, until the arrival of new boss Shigeru Okada who motivated him to progress his career and eventually become a B-movie guru.
Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action (approx. 15 mins)
Sporting a flamboyant shirt with giant red stars, the legendary Chiba discusses his teaching methods for hopeful stars and the importance of training the body first before worrying about enunciation. He also talks of his regret at mainly doing only action films and the formation of Japan’s Stuntman Club. It’s quite a brief interview, but still a welcome addition for fans.
Trailer (approx. 3 mins)
The archive trailer promises “relentless wolf action”. It does a sterling job too at giving an indication of the weirdness to expect.
There is also an illustrated collectors booklet (not available for review). This features new writing on the film by Patrick Macias and a history of Japanese monster movie mashups by Jasper Sharp
Wolf Guy is bizarre and definitely not for all tastes, but firmly recommended to fans of Sonny Chiba or those who enjoy offbeat Japanese b-movies. Arrow Video have, as ever, done a sterling job with this release. The Blu-ray boasts great picture and audio quality, combined with some decent extras.