Movie Reviews: Wild Zero

A movie like Wild Zero, you either dig it or you don't, and I thoroughly dug it. Here we have a gleefully absurd rock-and-roll romantic horror fantasy from Japan that is the single nuttiest thing since Brad and Janet touched down at the Frank-n-Furter estate, and what am I supposed to do? Analyze its symbolism? Let's face it — this is the kind of movie you savor with the volume up at 11, a brewski in your fist and a hottie of the opposite sex nestled in the crook of your arm. Anything less than that would border on sacrilege.

Japan's musical underground has produced some of the most far-ranging cultural debris imaginable, from the twenty-album-a-year noise maven and renegade intellectual Merzbow (Masami Akita) to punkabilly mutants like Shonen Knife and the 5-6-7-8s (the latter finally getting some overdue recognition thanks to Kill Bill). Half of the music seems to be celebrating the past, while the other half is busy annihilating it. Among the celebrators are a trio of lo-fi rockers named Guitar Wolf, and in an irony usually reserved for American bands of the same ilk, they struck it big in a foreign country (the good ol' USA, on the indie Matador label) before returning home.

Guitar Wolf: Tearing up the screen with attitude, style, and radioactive guitar picks.

The members of Guitar Wolf — who go by the names Guitar Wolf, Drum Wolf, and Bass Wolf — are the main fixtures of Wild Zero, so the film could almost be considered a long-form music video. It's chaotic and fractured, and there's almost no plot worth speaking of, but when you're having this much fun, who cares? The sole purpose of the movie is to give the audience a good time, blow up zombie heads good, and show us the Wolf pack combing their hair and looking tough. Just the way the band combs their hair is funny enough that there are whole scenes that consist of nothing but, and it gets a laugh out of us anyway.

Wild Zero opens with a horde of UFOs closing in on Planet Earth, ostensibly up to no good. Far below, aspiring rocker Ace (Masashi Endô, also from 19) heads out to see Guitar Wolf in concert, and maybe show his appreciation for them up close and personal. Unfortunately, the band is about to fall on hard times. Their promoter and agent (a slimeball with hideous and all-too-revealing tastes in clothing) declares "Rock and roll is dead!" and is turning his attention to the sort of plastic pop pre-fabs that are perennial favorites in Japan.

Aspiring rocker Ace and his sweetheart, Tobio ... who carries a secret.

Ace hears this, kicks in the door and bellows, "Rock and roll will never die!" General mayhem ensues, with the band pulling out guns and blowing off heads and fingers. (In this movie, whenever anyone gets shot in the head, their head blows open like a balloon stuffed with dog food.) Grateful, Guitar Wolf makes Ace his blood brother, and gives him a magic whistle that lets him call on the band whenever he's in trouble. Meanwhile, a bickering boyfriend and girlfriend and their space-cadet buddy start running afoul of a horde of zombies created by a meteorite that crashed down the other night... or was it a UFO?

Wild Zero never stops for breath. When there isn't rock'n'roll, there's fighting — heads being blown off, limbs ripped out, or magical glowing guitar picks being slung like shuriken. And when there isn't fighting, there's romance (and not just between the living, either!), with Guitar Wolf's spirit egging Ace on to make great strides in love and personal redemption, thanks to the power of rock'n'roll. That brings me to a scene that is Guitar Wolf's attitude in a nutshell: After being blown out of a building, he lands on the ground below, strikes a chord ... and then, realizing his guitar's slightly flat, gives it a quick tuning before kicking zombie ass.

Exploding zombie heads, exploding cars, exploding buildings ... what more do you want!?

There is more, amazingly: a bitchy female weapons dealer who looks great in her one-piece suit (it's a visual thing) and who gets to blow up plenty of zombie heads with her cache of illegal weapons. And then there's the two no-goodnik yakuza who she was originally going to cut a deal with, and Ace's girlfriend who turns out to be a ... well, let's just say that for a movie that has very little plot, it has a lot going on. I haven't even gotten to the part where a UFO gets cut in half with a samurai sword, or the bit where one of the characters suddenly begins projecting death rays from his eyes. Why? Because it looks cool, and in a movie like this, you can get away with it.

This is, not strictly speaking, a zombie movie — not that the exact category matters. Actually, the way I see it, it's one of a very small category of movies I'd call Cult Ready-Mades. Like the equally deranged Psycho Beach Party, this takes a whole slew of subjects that draw in cult fandom audience, mixes and matches them, and produces a thoroughly whacked original. Fans of the band, or of loud, noisy retro rock'n'roll in general, will probably eat the movie up — as will Rocky Horror fans, devotees of Asian cult movies, and anyone with a taste for the goofy and outlandish.

What do you say to a movie about fighting zombies with the power of rock'n'roll?
You say, "YES!"

The director, Tetsuro Takeuchi, got his sea legs with MTV Japan before making this his debut project, and he accomplishes a lot with a small budget. His heart is definitely in the right place, even if his editing occasionally drags and his rhythm is a little off. Some of the scenes take a lot longer to close out than they ought to, and he uses an oddball cross-fade to transition between scenes that don't really need it. But for the most part the movie is an absolute blast, in every sense of the word. It's all about attitude, and sometimes with a movie that's really all you need. That and microphone stands that shoot fire.

Tags: Japan movies review

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the categories Movie Reviews, Movies, published on 2003/10/10 15:00.

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