Friday, February 10, 2012

WILD ZERO - Review

Watching Japanese horror films is always interesting for me. I appreciate them for the striking visuals and special effects but sometimes don’t know quite how to take them, honestly. Culturally speaking their films often interpret things differently and I’m not sure I always “get” the sense of humor or style. But I had no problem with WILD ZERO, a film that is a full-out punk rock assault to the senses. Cars, guitars, motorcycles, and mics shoot flames, heads explode with ferocity, and a punk rock/surf soundtrack fuels all the action. Welcome to Wild Zero, a Japanese punk rock/horror/comedy/superhero/ alien invasion/zombie splatterfest.  Yeah, there’s a lot going on in this movie!


Here's the recipe for Wild Zero:
Mix “Dawn of the Dead” with “Rock n’ Roll High School”, add 2 parts “Plan 9 from Outer Space” & one part “The Crying Game”. Mix ample amounts of anime and comedy, and a pinch of an old Elvis movie. Mix in blender. Enjoy until your ears bleed.


Wild Zero was made in 2000 and directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi. I don’t know anything about Mr. Takeuchi – IMDB only lists him as director of two films - but I know Guitar Wolf kicks serious ass. They’re a garage-punk/surf trio that is the favorite band of lead character Ace, the man with the mile high pompadour. Guitar Wolf members are: Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf, and Drum Wolf. Channeling the Ramones they are the epitome of cool, dressed in matching black leather jackets, sunglasses, jeans and enough hair grease to make any 50’s rocker proud. Guitar Wolf the singer wears a red guitar slung over his shoulder everywhere he goes, and plays the chords from Link Wray’s RUMBLE as a battle cry when it’s time to kick ass. Now THAT’s rock n’ roll!

Ace is going to see them play at a nearby club. We see Guitar Wolf jamming onstage, the camera swooping around the room while the crowd goes crazy. Afterwards Ace heads backstage where he stumbles across an altercation between the band and the club owner, The Captain (who wears some insanely tight hotpants and Moe Howard wig). 


He overhears The Captain telling the boys that rock n’ roll is dead and, enraged, he bursts into the room shouting - Rock 'n Roll is NOT over, baby! Rock 'n Roll NEVER DIES!” The club owner and the band are facing off in a Mexican standoff, guns drawn Tarantino style. 

Using the distraction to their advantage Guitar Wolf blasts away, taking one thug’s head off clean at the shoulders and blasting two of The Captain’s fingers off. To thank Ace for the help Guitar Wolf gives him a wolf whistle and tells him to blow it if he’s ever in trouble.

In the first half of this movie Guitar Wolf functions almost like Ace’s muse, or conscience. They appear in times of crisis and spur him to action. Ace is a bit of a dork, kind of like the goofy teenager most of us used to be (I definitely speak for myself here).  He stops at a gas station and inadvertently foils a robbery, hitting the would-be bandit with the door and knocking him down. The thieves run off and our reluctant hero meets a girl named Tobio. The two are immediately attracted to one another, and after making small talk awkward Ace drives off, telling her he hopes he sees her again sometime. A little way down the road he finds a van stranded on the side of the road. He stops to see if anyone needs help and is stunned to find a pack of blue skinned zombies ripping apart two unfortunate corpses, presumably occupants of the vehicle.

You see, the film actually began with shots of disc-shaped flying saucers coming to Earth from outer space. They have resurrected the dead a-la Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ace runs to his scooter and hops on it to leave, but he stops, remembering Tobio. Should he leave her?  Suddenly Guitar Wolf (the singer) appears on the road, on a flame throwing motorcycle, and he tells Ace to go for it! Save the girl!

Ace avoids the zombies and heads back to the station, where he finds Tobio in trouble, surrounded by a horde of hungry zombies. He helps fend them off and they escape, making their way to an empty house where they barricade themselves inside, safe for the moment. They tell each other how much they like one another and kiss momentarily, but Ace stops, apologizing for taking advantage. Tobio stands, and to show him how she feels, drops her clothing. The camera slowly pans down her naked body, and in a revealing moment we find a shocking secret – she is a he! Ace runs screaming into a back room!

He is sick to his stomach, and cursing – why does this always happen to me?! Guitar Wolf (the singer) appears in the room. He points at Ace and tells him, “
True love knows no boundaries, color or gender! DO IT!" Ace pulls his shit together, decides Guitar Wolf is right, and kicks open the door, resolve strengthened.  The room is full of zombies and Tobio is nowhere to be seen - Ace attacks the zombies in a fury!

At this point the story shifts back to Guitar Wolf (the band). They’re playing in a neighboring bar, and we’re treated to a kick ass song called Exploding Blood. This movie has a thing for flame throwing – Guitar Wolf’s mic shoots flames out of it while he sings. Cut to the Captain, who learns they are playing in the next town and jumps into HIS flame throwing car, still sporting lace-up hotpants, and heads out to find them and get revenge.
Ace blows his whistle and Guitar Wolf hears the call – they leave the club and head out to find him. Along the way they save a female arms dealer from zombies and team up with her, picking up some serious armament for their fight against the zombies. Ace is saved and Guitar Wolf takes back the Whistle. “You don’t need this anymore,” he tells him. “Believe in the Power of Rock N Roll!” Ace heads out to find Tobio, emboldened by Guitar Wolf’s words.
This sets up the final showdown between Guitar Wolf and The Captain. They square off and during the battle they both gain super powers! It’s up to the band to stop The Captain and save the day from aliens and zombies. Much insanity ensues including zombie smashing, bazooka wielding, shuriken guitar pick throwing and a sword drawn from the neck of Guitar Wolf’s guitar.


 This film speaks to the importance of self reliance, acceptance, and individualism. Ace learns to overcome his own fears, of both taking action and in his relationship, and is rewarded with the gift of true love. It is a fun ride from start to finish and I highly recommend it.

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