My notes on Urufu gai: Moero ôkami-otoko (Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope) (1975), which is out on DVD/BluRay from Arrow.
I assume that whoever does the literal translating of Japanese titles for Arrow Video is joshing slightly – Enraged Lycanthrope is amusing, but surely the original could as easily be rendered as Angry Werewolf? And the main title, which derives from a complicated novel-manga franchise by Hirai Kasumasa, is English rendered into kanji anyway. Still, there’s no doubt that Wolf Guy: Incensed Lycanthrope is attention-getting, and this once-obscure film from busy pulp director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (Sister Street Fighter), is a startling genre blend … it’s a hardboiled urban thriller cum superhero werewolf flick with spy conspiracy, occult detective, roughie porno, gore and showbiz sleaze elements.
Akira Ingugami (Shinichi ‘Sonny’ Chiba) is the last of a tribe of wolf-people, survivor of a flashback black and white massacre, and gets stronger and more resilient (but not necessarily hairier) as the full moon nears. He seems to be working as a crime reporter in Tokyo, but acts like a combination of Jack Reacher and Wolverine – both not yet cultural ripples when Kasumasa created the character – as he gets involved in cases involving injustice to innocent victims and fights greater and greater odds in episodes that suggest two or three novels or comic book arcs crammed together in one compact 85 minute package. The initial case he gets involved with here is like something that Kolchak or The X-Files would deal with. He happens to be on the street when a member of a rock group called The Mobs is ripped to shreds by an invisible (or sometimes superimposed) tiger, and does a little digging to find that his band-members are being shredded one by one, and that it probably has to do with Miki Ogata (Etsuko Nami), a once-promising singer who was gang-raped and infected with syphilis by the group, on the orders of their Talent Agency, who are in cahoots with a right-wing politician who wanted to break up Miki’s romance with his son. While investigating, Inugami is roughed up by street level yakuza working for the crooked agent (Hiroshi Nawa) – and rescued by motorcycling mystery woman Katie (Connie Kobayashi), who ‘just wants an animal lover’ and seduces the wolf guy in a James Bondish sequence. It’s a moot point as to why the hero is playing sleuth here. The victims are horrible people, and he makes no effort to save the last of them. Though he suggests Miki – who is doing a weird version of her singing act in a strip-club, and annoying frustrated patrons who want to see skin – get treatment for her VD and consequent drug addiction, he barely mentions the fact that her grudge manifests as an unseen demon tiger.
Then, with the rockers dead, Miki and Inugami are both abducted by Katie’s sinister boss Kato (Kyosuke Machida), of the Japanese CIA, who have a program to exploit supernatural or paranormal forces , and work hard to train Miki to direct her grudge tiger at folk they want out of the way (the JCIA use the sleazy agent as a guinea pig). They also surgically pull out Inugami’s guts to teach him a lesson (using mondo operation footage) but when the moon is full, his healing factor hits in and his intestines crawl back into his belly and rearrange themselves properly. But his blood is used to confer wolf powers on a loyal agent who is now expected to defeat him in a snarling battle. Escaping into another storyline, Inugami goes to the rural region where his clan were wiped out and gets into a feud with local hunters – the descendants of the mob who killed his parents – and a romance with Taka, a girl named after his dead mother (!), who is wolf-friendly and wears a fetching fur coat/boots/bare legs ensemble. But, as in most Chiba action films, the baddies won’t leave the hero alone … the JCIA bring Mika, their new asset, to a handy quarry to face off against him in a finale that runs to multiple tragedies, but leaves the hero set to lope off to more adventures. Scripted by Fumio Konami (Snake Woman’s Curse), Wolf Guy is short, straight-faced, choppy, packed with fight scenes in which the hero beats up groups of thugs, generous with gory violence and nudity (and pretty sleazy about wallowing in nastiness), and offers a combo platter of grindhouse genres. It’s ordinary filmmaking – albeit with some funky Batman tilted angles, a kind of chaotic pop art energy and a charismatic lead – but an extraordinary entertainment package.
Kasumasa maintained a Superman/Superboy-style dual-strand franchise, with one set of adventures featuring this version of Urufu gai Inugami and another about the same character as a teenager. Like Wolverine, Inugami has not only animalistic fighting skills and healing powers but very bad lack with girlfriends – he beds his share of wolf groupies, but they tend to come to serious harm shortly thereafter. The younger Inugami – played by Taro Shigaki – appears in the film Okami no monsho/Crest of the Wolf (1973), and there’s naturally been an animated series too. Given how ahead of its time the idea of a werewolf noir superhero is, Ingugami would seem to be a prime candidate for a revival. Maybe a contemporary Inugami could finally show a wolfier aspect than surly monobrow Sonny Chiba sports here.
Saw the film last night on Arrow’s blu and loved its OTT gonzo-ness. Every aspect of the film’s making – script, camerawork, score – seem calculated to hit the bizarre scale at 11. The extras feature some candid interviews with the director and producer, both of whom kinda distance themselves a bit from it. Perhaps Takashi Miike can mount a reboot.
The booklet also has an essay on Japanese horror / monster (non-Kaiju) movies by Jasper Sharp, try to encompass so much movie ground as to seem almost too much as an extra for this film alone.