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Wild Zero
cast: Guitar Wolf, Drum Wolf, Bass Wolf, Masashi End´┐Ż, and Makoto Inamiya

director: Tetsuro Takeuchi

99 minutes (18) 2000 widescreen ratio 16:9
Eastern Cult Cinema DVD Region 2 rental

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
Wild Zero is the kind of film that has received limited, but generally ecstatic, reviews from those obviously in sympathy with the makers: "The best film I have ever seen... I really can't say enough good things about Wild Zero. It's the most fun I've had at the movies in a long time." - Teleport City (sic). "It represents everything I love about film and about life. It is beyond perfection. It has transcended into a realm of unbelievable excellence." - IMDb. One suspects however that none of the admirers of Takeuchi's lunatic rock and roll zombie flick see it as more than a trash exercise par excellence, a raucous hybrid in which nothing is taken seriously and lapses of taste and judgement are understandingly forgiven. Like most junk products it is fun while around, quickly consumed, soon forgotten and bad in excess.
   At the centre of the film is the iconic figure of Guitar Wolf (ably supported by his band members Drum Wolf and Bass Wolf). Guitar is unutterably cool, hails from the world of Japanese punk and rockabilly, and comes complete with sunglasses, sub-Elvis pompadour, black leather jacket, and "don't give a -" attitude. This is his second big screen appearance since McCarthy's Sore Losers of a few years back that, by all accounts, was a similar sort of project (tag-line: "They wanted meat so they ate the flower children!"). How you enjoy the present film depends on appreciating Guitar's somewhat hand-me down camp persona, and your enjoyment of the cheap zombie genre. Romero's trilogy hangs heavily over things, and at one point the characters even discuss who has seen Night Of The Living Dead (1968) - ironically, few here have. There are other influences too: Burton's Mars Attacks! (1996) during the initial flying saucer scenes, or the John Woo-like stand off in the manager's office. The meteor-led incursion recalls such 1950s' invasion titles as Arnold's It Came From Outer Space (1953). That aliens would want to bring the dead back to life as part of their plans can be seen in Wood's legendary Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), though the charm of that film is missing here.
   The action takes place in the nowhere-place of Asahi-Cho, the scene of a meteor shower and shortly, we discover, to be the focus of an alien invasion. Ace is the desperate-to-be-cool character, also in black leather, glasses and rockabilly pompadour, who plans to see his hero Guitar Wolf at the local dive (where he duly performs using microphones which shoot fire). After the show there's a falling out between Guitar and the club owner who, despite having grown up with the singer, claims "Rock and Roll is dead!" Given the heavy investment in the style by all concerned it's clearly a mistaken announcement. It duly provokes a shoot out between Guitar and the owner, in which Ace plays a crucial part in helping his hero. The owner loses two fingers for his pains and vows revenge. Meanwhile Guitar makes Ace his "rock and roll blood brother" and gives him a whistle, to be blown when he is danger. Given that the town is due to be overrun by murderous zombies this is no small blessing, as one can imagine.
   Meanwhile other strange characters are introduced: a female arms dealer, most comfortable in what looks like a plaid leotard; a bickering trio in a car, (one of which, Masao, goes odd and tries a blundering gas station robbery); the girl Tobio, dumped by the road after being called a 'pervert' by an unknown driver. She then strikes up a close friendship with Ace. All of these characters act strangely, and it is clear that the meteorite storm is affecting them, just as it unaccountably brings the dead back to life to roam the streets and eat people. Soon Ace discovers a grisly roadside dismemberment and has to prove his courage. Tobio (who has a remarkable secret of her own) is under threat from the zombies, and the plaid babe has to break into a stock of weapons to defend herself. All this while Guitar Wolf needs to first help Ace, fight off the angry club owner, then save the world...
   Such trivial plotting and mediocre acting provide window dressing to the film's main elements: Guitar Wolf's rockabilly insouciance in the face of danger, and Ace's own rite of passage; the stumbling flesh-eaters appearing with predictable regularity, and the drug-crazed club owner, (now dressed in hot pants), hunting the singer. The result is, frankly, an entirely inconsequential mishmash, although such a criticism is irrelevant to those who would savour the throwaway lunacy of it all. Takeuchi's first time direction is mundane at best, exemplified in the couple of times he clumsily attempts cross cutting, such as between Ace battling the zombies and Tobio's calm walkabout in her trainers, which seem misplaced and unnecessary. Cross cutting to increase suspense, or to effectively showcase parallel action, is beyond a director whose visual reticence indeed often works against Guitar's screen impact. More unforgivably, while the bargain basement flying saucer effects and gory visuals of disembowelment are well done, there is no feeling of real horror in the picture, merely some vaguely tense scenes as Ace and others are surrounded. The gathering claustrophobia and social comment found in Romero's originals are entirely absent. The flourish and demonstration of a butterfly-knife at one point (a scene which would have undoubtedly been cut a few years back by the squeamish BBFC) promises some tough street fighting, which never materialises - a shame as it would have promised more immediacy and danger than we ever see here. One or two moments are effective: the sad zombie that Toschi becomes, for instance (played by a peculiarly Buscemi-like Japanese actor), wondering the streets before being reunited with his zombie girlfriend. Or Guitar's leap from an exploding room in a three-storey building, to land unscathed and then casually retune his instrument. Such wit is hard to find in a film playing like an off the wall drive-in movie and, for those not attuned, can drag terribly.
   At the end of the film Guitar dispatches an alien mothership with his sword, drawn from his guitar - a striking action that, in a single move, encapsulates both the strengths and weakness of a crazy film. Standing on the roof, blade erect to slice open the metal belly, Guitar is cool without being quite convincing, the plot's climax barmy without being brilliant. If we can accept Guitar's keen edge hacking through a low flying spacecraft without laughing the wrong way, then no doubt we will accept and forgive much else seen too. Unfortunately this viewer had his doubts. In Ace's words "At the end of the road you've gotta be grateful" and I had reason to agree with him.
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