Wild Zero (1999)
Directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi
Written by Satoshi Takagi
Starring Masashi Endô, Kwancharu Shitichai, Yôko Asada, Guitar Wolf, Drum Wolf, Bass Wolf, Mikoto Inamiya, Naruka Hakajo, Taneko, and Yoshiyuki Morishita
Sometimes a movie is so overstuffed that it transcends petty issues like coherent narrative and physical laws. The enthusiasm of the production is enough to propel the audience past any concerns about logic or story structure. Such a movie was Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, a gleefully gory zombie romp from Australia. Wild Zero is another such film, also about zombies — this time from Japan.
Turn back the clock to 1999. The Y2K bug threatened to shut down computers world-wide. Adherents of the Gregorian calendar were convinced that the year 2000 meant something big (and likely disasterous) would happen. And a band named Guitar Wolf was rocking out in Japan. Founded in the 1980s, Guitar Wolf is a trio with influences from Link Wray to The Ramones. They are also magical rock warriors who show up throughout this film whenever things get weird, which is fairly often.
Our main character is Ace (Masashi Endô), a young biker with dreams of surpassing Guitar Wolf singer and guitarist, Guitar Wolf (Guitar Wolf). He can’t sing or play guitar, but armed with a leather jacket and a splendid pompadour Ace barges into the office of club owner Captain (Mikoto Inamiya). This intrusion disrupts a standoff between Captain (and his henchman) and Guitar Wolf, resulting in Captain losing a few fingers and an innocent bystander getting his head blown off like a CGI balloon filled with blood.
This sets part of the stage for the film. Captain will pursue Guitar Wolf for revenge, and Guitar Wolf will repay Ace for his timely intervention. The other half comes into play at a gas station, where travelers begin to congregate and comment on the strange lack of employees. Of primary interest is the film’s ingenue, Tobio (Kwancharu Shitichai). Tobio is a trans girl, and she has just been abandoned at the side of the road by a guy who is not very accepting of her. Her dialog is dubbed by Yôko Asada, which is seemingly referenced by Ace’s comment that she speaks Japanese very well — Shitichai and many of the extras being Thai. The love story between Tobio and Ace is the core of the story.
There’s actually a third important thread of the narrative, which involves a yakuza who’s arranged to buy guns from Yamazaki (Naruka Hakajo). This introduces a sizable artillery into the rapidly zombified area. Okay, and a forth plot involves Hanako (Taneko) and Toshi (Yoshiyuki Morishita), a couple who are separated by the zombie infection. Then there are the UFOs, which seem to be related to the meteorite that began converting the town into the undead. They don’t actually do anything, but they appear to be necessary to keep the dead moving.
You can see how busy the film is. There are a lot of people with their own plots weaving through an extinction level event. Add in the goofy action and silly effects, and what you’ve got is an octane-fueled horror-comedy that rarely gives you time to process what you’re seeing. Then there’s Guitar Wolf.
Logic goes out the window whenever the band is onscreen, particularly where Guitar Wolf himself is involved. He has some difficulty shooting a gun, but he can do absolutely anything else, particularly if that involves electricity. In one of my favorite moments, Guitar Wolf takes down a mob of zombies by flicking electrified guitar picks at them. How can he do this? Why do plastic picks hold the charge? How do they kill the zombies? I don’t know, man; he’s Guitar Wolf, that’s why!
In the midst of all this glorious chaos, Ace learns the most important lesson of all: love has no borders, nationalities, or genders! He learns this from his idol Guitar Wolf, who may or may not have actually appeared before him to say that. Whatever, just rock and roll with it.