Wild Zero by Tetsuro Takeuchi (Review)

In the end, Wild Zero is filled with lots of ambition, excess, and energy that gets a little ahead of itself at times.
Wild Zero

I normally prefer to watch movies alone. First off, I get pretty tired of all of the kung fu and anime jokes that I get heckled with by people walking through the room. Second, people always seem to insist on asking me questions about what’s going to happen next in the movie, rather than patiently waiting 5 more minutes to find out for themselves. Finally, more people just mean more distractions, especially when I just want to really absorb and digest a movie (be it a French surrealist piece or a madcap Hong Kong actionfest). It’s difficult enough to make it through some of the movies I watch without having to put up with some smart aleck’s wisecracks, or yet another “I can’t believe you bought this” comment.

Of course, there are notable exceptions to this, and Wild Zero is one of them. The first time I saw this movie I was alone, which may have been a mistake. Mathematically speaking, this is one case where your enjoyment of the movie is directly proportional to the number of people in the room with you.

For better or worse, Tetsuro Takeuchi set out to make the ultimate cult movie, culling elements from zombie movies (Night of the Living Dead), 50s B-grade sci-fi movies (Plan 9 from Outer Space), and rock n’ roll movies (Rock N’ Roll High Forever). And it might be that his little formula worked a little too well for the film’s own good. In the end, Wild Zero is filled with lots of ambition, excess, and energy that gets a little ahead of itself at times.

Like any true rock n’ roller, Ace (Masashi Endô) just wants to ride around the country on his motorcycle, following his favorite band (the legendary Guitar Wolf) around from show to show. He’s a gawky rockabilly kid who tries too hard (like the movie), but he’s got a heart of gold. When the promoter of Guitar Wolf’s latest gig refuses to help them out anymore, claiming that rock n’ roll is no longer cool, Ace bursts in screaming “Rock n’ roll will never die!” He saves the band from the promoter’s goons, and Guitar Wolf takes them all out.

To thank Ace, Guitar Wolf (Guitar Wolf’s lead singer/guitarist, that is) becomes rock n’ roll blood brothers with him, giving him a whistle in case he’s ever in trouble. Then they set off in a flame-spitting muscle car and motorcycle (complete with wolf’s head and bottle of whiskey on the handlebars). Ace continues on his merry way to the next gig. He stops in a small town to get gas and inadvertently foils another crime, this one a robbery of the gas station. There he meets Tobio, a super-cute gal who was ditched by her last boyfriend on the roadside. Ace and Tobio hit it off big time in an “awww shucks” sort of way, but Ace must follow the call of the rock and heads off to the next Guitar Wolf gig.

Meanwhile, strange things are afoot at the town, which is apparently deserted. Flying saucers are seen in the sky, a meteor has fallen somewhere nearby, and zombies fill the roads (naturally). This is unfortunate for a group of yakuza on their way to visit an arms dealer, as well as another trio of punks (two of them, Toshi and Hanako, are the single most annoying couple in any movie I’ve seen in a long time). All have rather disgusting run-ins with the zombies, who stagger around the countryside like drunks at 3:00am.

Ace escapes from the zombies and fights to make it back to save Tobio. Meanwhile, the promoter (who wears the shortest, tightest pairs of shorts in cinematic history) is hot on Guitar Wolf’s trail to get revenge. Ace makes it back to Tobio, and the two run off the hide from the zombies. Of course, it’s not like these zombies could do anything considering how slow and clumsy they are. Finally safe, Ace confesses his love for Tobio, who reveals that she, um, isn’t exactly like the other girls. Horrified, Ace runs away. Ashamed that he couldn’t truly love Tobio, he turns into a one-man zombie wrecking crew.

Guitar Wolf (the band) have also realized something’s up. After picking up the Toshi and Hanako, they head off in search of Ace (remember, they’re rock n’ roll blood brothers). They hook up with the arms dealer after saving her from a mob of zombies (dispatched by magical, glowing guitar picks that Guitar Wolf slings around like throwing stars) and make it back to her warehouse. Stocking up on weapons, Guitar Wolf prepares for a final confrontation with the zombies.

Let’s just focus on Guitar Wolf and his bandmates — the other members are named Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf — for a minute. They drive vehicles that spit fire. They sing into microphones that spit fire like blowtorches. They spend half the movie taking out zombies and the other half striking ultra-cool poses and fixing their hair. To Guitar Wolf, it’s no big thing to jump out of exploding building while yelling “ROCK N’ ROLL!!!,” land on the ground, and immediately retune his guitar. When things get too close for comfort, he just pulls a samurai sword out his guitar and starts slicing UFOs… in midair! Take that, Six String Samurai! And when Ace is down on his luck, Guitar Wolf gives him sage advice, which basically consists of, you guessed it, “ROCK N’ ROLL!!!” Each your heart out, Dr. Phil!

In fact, watching Guitar Wolf is reason enough to buy this movie. Sure, they can’t act one bit, and they may not even be able to really play their instruments, but when they’re singing songs like “Violent Blood,” who really cares? You don’t want frickin’ Eric Clapton on your side when you’re facing down an army of the undead, do you? You want sketchy, leatherbound rock n’ roll backing you up, and Guitar Wolf has enough of that to make Motley Crüe look like James Taylor.

When I first read about this movie, I got all giddy inside like a little schoolgirl. Here’s a movie that, on paper has everything a movie needs to be, in a word, classic. It’s got rock n’ roll, zombies, rock n’ roll, aliens, rock n’ roll, romance, rock n’ roll, and cheesy gore. Oh, and it also has a bit of rock n’ roll.

So, if that’s all true, why is this movie so painful at times? Really, you’ll spend a good deal of the movie waiting for the next cool Guitar Wolf scene to arrive. You know that whenever those guys are onscreen, something good is bound to happen (as in exploding buildings and/or zombie heads). However, there’s also a lot of filler, usually involving the shenanigans of Toshi and Hanako (arguing, running through the forest, screaming their heads off, etc.). All in all, they’re about as useful as those red shirt-wearing fellows from Star Trek.

And the zombies themselves are pretty lackluster. Unlike the gun-toting corpses in Versus, these zombies prefer to stagger around (if they move at all) and groan a lot. And if you’re unfortunate enough to be caught by them, the worst they’ll do is paw you to death. After watching the zombies (all played by members of the local community theatre, I assume) and their ineptness, it gets a bit old.

From every technical standpoint, the movie is just this side of shoddy. The pacing is pretty bad, the effects even worse, and the editing almost always leave something to be desired. But that’s not the point, is it? I’m sure much of that was intentional so as to capture the look and feel of the B movies that Wild Zero is so obviously an homage to. Still, I think that Takeuchi and Co. might have done too good a job, as the film does crumble at times underneath the weight of its own considerable excess.

Be that as it may, this can still be a really fun film (and I can just imagine the giggles that happened as Satoshi Takagi wrote the movie’s “script”). Like Dead Alive, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Plan 9 from Outer Space, or any MST3K-worthy film, this is definitely a party movie. As much as I love those movies, they really shine when you watch them with a group so that everyone’s laughter and enjoyment feeds off eachother.

While I still prefer Versus in the Japanese splatter genre, Wild Zero has a lot going for it, and it does get pretty far on its amateurish charm. Personally, I can’t wait for my next movie marathon, so I can spring this on a bunch of my friends and watch their jaws hit the floor as the promoter shoots deathrays out his eyes. Or when Ace finds out Tobio’s little secret. But most of all when Guitar Wolf teaches us all about rock n’ roll… err, I mean… ROCK N’ ROLL!!!

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