CAPSULE: WILD ZERO (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Tetsuro Takeuchi

FEATURING: Masashi Endô, Kwancharu Shitichai, Guitar Wolf, Makoto Inamiya

PLOT: Guitar Wolf (frontman of the pistol-packing punk outfit Guitar Wolf) makes Ace a blood brother when the would-be greaser is injured during a showdown between the band and an evil club owner; the rock star gives him a whistle he can use to summon the band in times of need, which comes in useful when Ace finds himself trapped in a town overrun by zombies.

Still from Wild Zero (2000)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s more “wild” than “weird,” and more “awesome” than “great.”  The surrealism sometimes seems to result from carelessness—as if the director is thinking, “no one’s going to care if this character suddenly shoots lasers from his eyes, as long as something blows up and the soundtrack’s loud”—rather than an ideological dedication to absurdity. It’s a crazy, fluffy pop confection made from zombies, punk rock and flying saucers, fun but totally non-nutritious; the younger, or the drunker, you are, the more likely you are to fall in love with it.

COMMENTS:  When Wild Zero‘s advertising proclaims it a “super rock and roll jet movie!,” it reminds us that Westerners are as fascinated and amused by the way the Japanese absorb and alter American pop culture, chewing up and spitting our entertainment idioms back at us in twisted forms.  Wild Zero is a fairly obvious mashup of Rock and Roll High School and Night of the Living Dead, but when seasoned with casual Oriental surrealism, it turns into something that feels unique and unclassifiable: a “super rock and roll jet movie!”  The band Guitar Wolf, with their leather jackets, shades, shared surname (frontman Guitar Wolf shares the stage with sidekicks Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf), and fast and furious odes to teen rebellion, shamelessly crib from the Ramones.  However, they add their own flavor to the recipe.  The Ramones never had magical powers, arsenals of munitions, or flames shooting from their microphones, and to my knowledge they never went so far as to act as superheroes for their most dedicated fans, explode zombie heads with glowing guitar picks, or use samurai blades hidden in guitar necks to gut alien motherships.  Superhumanly cool and macho, like Clint Eastwood if he knew three guitar chords, Guitar Wolf is a role model to average fan and audience stand-in Ace, a Japanese greaser with a ducktailed pompadour, a motorcycle and self-confidence issues.  Mix in a shy love interest with a mysterious secret, three squabbling losers tooling around looking for a fallen meteorite, a sexy gun-runner with a camouflage-decorated Humvee, and—most memorably—a disgruntled pill-popping club owner in short-shorts and a pageboy haircut, sprinkle with a plague of walking undead and occasional flying saucers peeking in on the proceedings, and you have yourself one mixed up B-movie.  (If that’s not enough, then throw in a hermaphrodite and some gold eggs that keep recurring throughout the story with no explanation).  Stylistically, director Takeuchi stays true to his music video roots.  Scenes of Guitar Wolf in concert feature arcs of electricity improbably leaping from the band’s superheated axes, and the remainder of the movie’s reality is just as malleable.  Takeuchi may comically speed up the film for a chase sequence, or have Guitar Wolf appear from nowhere to advise Ace (putting every life lesson in the context of “rock and roll!”), or frame the screen with a cut out heart.  These techniques anticipate the arch artificiality of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, though they’re not used as aggressively or with as much panache.  When it comes to shooting action sequences, Takeuchi’s not nearly as competent; there’s little terror or excitement to the zombie assaults, which are basically of the style where undead claws are centimeters away from grabbing the paralyzed heroine in one scene, then distant enough that the hero can run in from offscreen and weave between them to grab her and run to safety in the very next shot.  The movie is fun, but its basic messages are light: Guitar Wolf will do anything for their fans, and rock and roll (and, to a lesser extent, love) has a magical power to defeat zombies.

The Wild Zero DVD comes with its own drinking game (sample rule: take a drink anytime “fire shoots out of anything.”)  Since you’ll soon be too sloshed to pay attention, a beer glass appears on screen to prompt the player to imbibe.  Unfortunately, it would take an entire fraternity working in shifts to survive a single game without a trip to the emergency room.  There’s also an Easter Egg that gives you a seven minute interview with the real band Guitar Wolf.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…never even tries to make sense. From video-generated lightning effects to magical, zombie-killing guitar picks, the film whirls from one madcap idea to another; if you start to worry that all of this might not be holding together, well, don’t worry; all the loud music and flashy lighting will keep you distracted.”–Mondo Digital (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Evan,” who called it “pretty great and pretty weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

2 thoughts on “CAPSULE: WILD ZERO (2000)”

    1. It’s better. I’ve seen GUITAR WOLF twice and they were AMAZING both times, but this movie was my gospel for ages, when I truly BELIEVED in ROCK AND ROLL!

      Why can’t all movies be this great?

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