The first manga I ever came into contact with was a little gem called Xenon (aka Heavy Metal Warrior Xenon aka Bio Diver Xenon) by Masaomi Kanzaki. I found the premiere issue at my local comic shop, and I think it was published in America at that time by Eclipse, though I may be wrong about that. I had encountered anime series like Battle Of The Planets (aka Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) and Tranzor Z (aka Mazinger Z), and loved the living hell out of them, so I was used to the general visual style and level of insanity. But the sheer detail carried off in the comic was like something from another world for me (obviously, considering the time, labor, and money constraints between the two mediums this is no real surprise). Xenon was essentially about a young man who has his body cybernetically modified and then gets attacked every month by a swelling cast of whacked out villains. Needless to say, this was (and likely still is) like crack for a male teenaged comic book reader. I think I still have a couple of issues, but I have been meaning to go back, collect the whole series, and re-read them. I doubt that it would hold up for me half as well today, but I would like to think that, if nothing else, it might stave off the ever-increasing acedia that sits forever poised on the outer edges of my day-to-day. Sweet fire of life, thy name be comics. Maybe?
A crazed man careens through the streets of Tokyo, screaming about a were-tiger on his tail (sorry). Running into tough-as-nails reporter (I think he’s a reporter, at any rate) Inugami (Shin’ichi Chiba), the man is ripped to shreds by invisible claws in front of our protagonist. Later, the official coroner’s report lists cause of death as “spectral slasher” (of course it does). Inugami takes it upon himself to find the mysterious singer Miki, who is the key to what’s happening. Along the way many, many people get killed very violently.
Of course, Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s Wolfguy: Enraged Wolfman (aka Urufu Gai: Moero Okami-otoko aka Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope) is based on a manga, and this largely accounts for its episodic nature. However, it has been my experience that a great many of the films produced by film company Toei at this time (The Street Fighter, Sister Street Fighter, Female Prisoner Scorpion, etcetera) had this same narrative structure. They would introduce a main character and a base storyline, and then they would drop the main character into a bunch of variegated situations (either action-oriented and/or sexual) until they suddenly brought it all back around to resolve the initial storyline. They are lurid, violent, and they keep moving whether you can keep up with them or not. This fitful approach can be off-putting to anyone who wants a straight, linear story. Even though the various sections all relate back to the main plot at least tangentially, they only occasionally have much bearing on it or on developing it or moving it along, for better or worse. This doesn’t particularly bother me as a viewer, because the sheer inventiveness of what they put the characters through is at least entertaining enough to never be completely boring. While I’m speaking of style, I have to address Yamaguchi’s direction. His camerawork is so frenetic, so willfully disorienting and nigh spasmodic, it does become quickly frustrating. Add to that the fact that most compositions in the film are so tight as to be claustrophobic, to the point that even the blocking of many of the dialogue scenes is muddled. Consequently, Wolfguy never really took off for me. Mayhap, those more inured to this fashion of filmmaking will get more out of it.
Being a werewolf (who, incidentally, never actually transforms aside from his hair and eyebrows getting a trifle wilder; Inugami merely gains supernatural powers on the fifteenth day of every lunar cycle), the film is rife with references to the similarities between people and animals. Reporters in general are referred to as “jackals.” Inugami is told by a hot government agent that he’s “got sharp animal instincts” and he smells “like an animal, too” right before she has sex with him (just another day in the life of a Wolfguy). Miki’s song contains the lyric “a woman’s claws are the claws of a tiger.” Inugami chucks the vegetables from his dinner plate and stuffs massive chunks of steak into his mouth. The rock band that were instrumental (ahem) in much of what happens are pared down to their basest animal desires. Characters lick blood off their hands. But two things emerge from all this. One, only those truly in line with their animal nature are considered good or even have any sort of worth. So, Inugami can best an agent given a transfusion of his blood handily, because Inugami can control his bestial side. Miki’s rage is righteous because of what she has endured, and it has brought her inner nature into focus. Two, this same feral aspect distances these characters from the rest of humanity. Inugami is unlike anyone else, and he must remove himself from society because of this. In a telling visual touch, Miki’s apartment is decorated with a wall-sized photo of herself holding a flower. Considering how far she has been degraded, it creates a sharp statement about innocence (read: humanity) lost. Inugami and Miki connect on an emotional level, but they must remain apart, because despite their similarities, Miki is still human and Inugami isn’t. The only person our hero truly bonds with is someone who directly connects him to his deceased mother, and even this is destined not to last, because she is also human.
There is a streak of individualism running through the film, as well (as there is through the other examples cited above). In the same way that the animal characters are outsiders, they are also directly in opposition to the massed forces of power in the film. Inugami fights large gangs of yakuza and government agents all by himself. Miki remains defiantly herself in the face of her attackers, and even when working at a low rent strip club, she refuses to take her clothes off despite the patrons heckling her and throwing objects at her. It’s only when a character aligns themselves with the factions of power that they can be considered evil, because they have given up their unique personality and become just more fodder for the cannons of the dominant. An interesting facet for a film that doesn’t quite manage to rise above its peers.
MVT: It should go without saying that the film rests fundamentally on the shoulders of Chiba, and he handles this responsibility well. It is, after all, why he was such a massive star for so long. By that same token, he plays Inugami about the same as every other action role he attacked, giving no more or less than his usual one-hundred-and-ten percent. If you liked him in everything else you’ve seen him in, you’ll like him equally here.
Make Or Break: The opening scene sums up and foreshadows the film as well as any scene could. It introduces Inugami and the “spectral slasher” angle, gives the audience some nice gore, and may just induce a slight bout of nausea with its cinematography.