Wild Zero

Original title
Wild Zero
Japanese title
Running time
99 minutes
26 September 2001
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"Brutality of screen!" "Thrill, speed and stupid zombies!" "Trash and chaossss!" exclaims the suitably lurid DVD cover to the debut movie of Japan's favourite trash rockers Guitar Wolf. For once, these are movie tag lines that are actually appropriate. The three-piece band (consisting of Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf), known for their extravagant on-stage antics and reckless disregard for decibel levels, have translated their rock 'n' roll philosophy into celluloid (or rather digital video) and come up with something so thoroughly deranged and looney that it manages to cram in bikes, guns, gangsters, zombies, UFOs, transvestites, and young love.

Since the three wildmen aren't quite the greatest of actors, they have only a supporting role to play in Wild Zero. The star of the show is Ace (Endo), a twenty-something wannabe rock star, whose goal is to become as big as his heroes Guitar Wolf, whom he religiously follows around the country from show to show. Despite his leather jacket and greasy quiff he is really just an amiable bumbling loser, so when he stumbles straight into a standoff between his favourite band and a greedy club owner who has decided to change the programming at his venue from rock 'n' roll to j-pop, he is the first to hit the deck. Still, Guitar Wolf (the guy) recognizes the lad's potential and makes him his rock 'n' roll blood brother as well as giving him a dog whistle (or wolf whistle, rather), for use if he's ever in danger. And it's a good thing he got it too, because no sooner have he and the band parted company or UFOs start to appear in the skies and the dead come back to life with as big an appetite for human flesh as ever. Just as Ace thinks he has found love in the shape of the cute Tobio, whom he rescues by accident from a hold-up at a gas station, the two are overpowered by zombies and have to hide in an abandoned factory.

From the synopsis so far, you might conclude that you've seen all this before. In a 1950s drive-in movie or an Italian zombiefest, perhaps. But those films never had magic killer guitar picks, naked women emptying their guns on zombies in the shower, hermaphrodite love interests, a rampaging club owner in a wig and hotpants, or a Japanese rock musician slicing a UFO in half with a sword hidden in the neck of his guitar. Add exploding zombie heads aplenty, big scale pyrotechnics, and a soundtrack of lo-fi but high-volume garage punk, and you've got yourself a movie that may not clean up at any awards shows but certainly goes out of its way to entertain its audience.

Despite the punk-rock philosophy of Wild Zero, its director Tetsuro Takeuchi (a music video director here making his feature debut) is not quite in the same league as a Sogo Ishii, Shinya Tsukamoto, or even a Robert Rodriguez (whose own ode to leather-jacketed rebel rock 'n' rollers Roadracers this film in some ways resembles - plus the zombies and UFOs of course). He's not even close, in fact, as witnessed by Wild Zero's sometimes awkward pacing and sloppy editing. But then again, Guitar Wolf themselves don't care about breaking strings or staying in tune either, and will gladly provide an encore after the house lights have come back on and the microphones have been plugged out. The film's simple but total devotion to entertain, plus very likeable performances by an appealing cast (Masashi Endo as Ace is quite a revelation - he would later appear in Makoto Shinozaki's Not Forgotten and Kazushi Watanabe's 19) are what counts here. Wild Zero may be shaky at times, but boy is it great fun.