Wolf Guy Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)
Akira Inugami (Sonny Chiba) is the only survivor of a clan of ancient werewolves who relies on his supernatural powers to solve mysterious crimes. After a series of bloody killings perpetrated by an unseen force, Inugami uncovers a conspiracy involving a murdered cabaret singer, corrupt politicians, and a plot by the J-CIA to harvest his blood in order to steal his lycanthropic powers! At the same time, Inugami also discovers the truth behind his family heritage and that he may not be the last of his kind. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Sometimes, you run across an obscure exploitation movie that is such a perfect storm of strange ideas, outrageous images, and recognizable stars that you can’t believe that it doesn’t have a bigger reputation. Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s Wolf Guy (Japanese: Urufu gai: Moero ôkami-otoko; aka: Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope, 1975) is a category 5 cult movie waiting to happen. It overlaps detective, superhero, horror, and sci-fi genre elements, it’s joyfully violent, it has a sex scene about every 20 minutes, it’s earnest in its campiness, its production design is out of this world, and it stars the incomparable Shinichi 'Sonny' ‘Street Fighter’ ‘Hattori Hanzō’ Chiba. Better yet, this disparate mix of popular conventions actually tie together beautifully and each part works on its own accord. The cops ‘n robbers part of the story, though not particularly unique outside of its supernatural parts, presents tidy little plot that grounds the insanity in a bit of mystery and character development. The action is cartoonishly violent, including typically bone-crunching martial arts from Chiba, a particularly nasty surgery sequence (the title character heals in the moonlight and sucks his guts back into his body), and garishly bloody scenes where people are torn to shreds by an invisible ‘tiger force.’ Chiba himself is also really good, portraying a particularly compassionate hero without losing the cool/sexy edge of the antihero persona he’d developed in movies, like Jun'ya Satô’s Golgo 13 (1973) and Shigehiro Ozawa’s The Street Fighter (Japanese: Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken, 1974).
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (Japanese: Joshû 701-gô: Sasori, 1972) writer Fumio Kônami’s screenplay is based on the manga series of the same name by Kazumasa Hirai, who is better known as the creator of the super-influential 8 Man and co-writer of the official Japanese Spider-Man comic of the early ‘70s. It is also a pseudo-sequel to Masashi Matsumoto’s Horror of the Wolf (Japanese: Ôkami no monshô, 1973), a straight horror movie in which Tarô Shigaki played a teen version of Akira Inugami that actually turned into a wolf, rather than being granted superpowers by the full moon. The events of Horror of the Wolf[/i] don’t have any bearing here; however, like many manga adaptations, Wolf Guy assumes that we’re familiar with the source material to some degree. What’s amusing is that the lack of context (aside from some black & white flashbacks to Inugami’s childhood) actually works in the film’s favour, because it forces the audience to take so much for granted. Modern superhero movies might benefit from a similar lack of origin story. As a director, Yamaguchi generally embraces the Toei house style for crime dramas with his anamorphic scope compositions and use of Dutch angles, but there are also enormously theatrical moments, such as the highly-stylized strip club/burlesque scenes and most scenes of violence, which are accompanied by searing red and blue lights (the graphic surgery sequence is ‘censored’ using red/teal-coated, reverse negative shots). I haven’t seen enough of the director’s work to declare Wolf Guy his masterpiece, but can verify that it is better than the also good Tokyo Bad Girls (Japanese: Zubekô banchô: yume wa yoru hiraku, 1970), Sister Street Fighter movies (both 1974), and Wandering Ginza Butterfly movies (both 1972).
It appears that Wolf Guy was never released on DVD, even in Japan, and was not available on VHS or Beta in any part of America or Europe. It aired in widescreen on Japanese television, so there are bootlegs, but there was never an official HD or digital media version. An HD master was supplied directly to Arrow by the folks at Toei. There is no further word on the condition of the material or the mastering process. That said, there was a low bar for the transfer, due to the utter lack of availability. I would’ve probably been happy with an upconverted tape in the correct aspect ratio. Fortunately, the image quality is ‘just fine’ on its way to being ‘very good.’ Black levels are a bit weak and, in this case, contrast has been pumped up all-around, so the white levels bloom slightly. Given the softish quality of cinematographer Yoshio Nakajuma’s photography, the pillowed highlights might have been intentional. Details are strong, especially in close-up, and edges are tight, even if the fine textures appear smoothed. Colors are consistent (almost eerily so) and the brighter hues pop nicely. The major issue is the presence of digital noise, which can be snowy in dark spots, causes discoloration throughout the richest hues, and creates some mushy background lines. It’s still a minor price to pay for access to this particular movie.
The original Japanese audio is presented in LPCM 1.0. The sound design is slightly more aggressive than usual for a ‘70s Japanese B-movie, thanks mostly to the near constant use of music. Hiroshi Baba’s Bernard Herrmann-meets-James-Brown-meets-Cream musical score is one of the film’s finest assets and it rarely fades into the background. The instrumentations are pretty well separated and the bass lines are tight without warbling. The dialogue features minor aspirated hiss and the crunchy foley work is about as tinny as you’d expect from any low-budget martial arts or horror movie from the era.
Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts (10:31, HD) – The director talks about his early career, his Delinquent Girl Boss movies, the Wolf Guy comics, designing/filming the Wolf Guy film, and working with the cast.
Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master (17:30, HD) – Yoshida discusses his life as one of the most successful exploitation film producers in ‘70s Japan. He’s quite open and honest about the hardships of the era, not being familiar with the Wolf Guy comics before setting out to make the movie, and how making movies with a female audience in mind was one of the keys to his success.
Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol 1 (14:31, HD) – The superstar sticks mostly to his Toei action movies, including Wolf Guy and the Japanese Action Club actor stunt training regiments he went through in this lively retrospective chat.
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