Wolf Guy (1975)
The Street Fighter made Shi'nichi "Sonny" Chiba one of the biggest action stars in Japan. Toei, the movie studio behind The Street Fighter and its quick run of sequels, was desperate to get Chiba into any role they could in order to keep the money flowing. In 1973 rival studio Toho had released Horror of the Wolf, based on the popular manga Wolf Guy by Kazumasa Harai. Luckily for Toei Harai had written two different series of books, one with Akira Igunami as a teenager and the other as an adult. Toho had the rights to the former, so Toei quickly grabbed the other.
Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi had never heard of the manga and had no desire to make a movie based on it. However, orders were orders and, without even the budget to have Chiba change into a wolf, let alone a wolf guy, he went ahead and made the movie. Somehow, years later, Wolf Guy became a cult hit in the United States.
Akira Inugami (Chiba) is the last surviving member of a village of wolf people that were massacred by their neighbors. In the present day he works as a reporter in Tokyo. One night he encounters a man who is screaming about a woman turning into a tiger who, despite appearing out of his mind, is suddenly slashed to death by an invisible force, while Inugami sees a vision of a tiger after the deed is done. His friend Arai (Harumi Sone) informs him the man was Hiruma (Kinji Takinami), formerly of a band called the Mobs that had broken up some time before. It turns out all but one member had died similarly, and it traced back to a singer named Miki (Etsuko Nami) the band had gang raped on the orders of their manager, Keiichi Manabe (Hiroshi Nawa).
It turns out Manabe was ordered to do so by yakuza boss Tsukada (Saburô Date), who in turn was hired by a politician whose son was dating Miki. After contracting syphilis, losing her career and becoming a drug addict, Miki's rage manifested itself as a tiger, and soon Inugami finds himself trying to protect her from Tsukada's men. Unfortunately, a shadowy agency led by a man named Kato (Kyôsuke Machida) finds out about the both of them and intends to use them as political assassins. Inugami escapes, but not before his blood is transfused into another man that briefly gets Akira's powers of invincibility, which come around on the 15th day of every lunar cycle. Fed up with humanity he returns to his village, only to find the neighbors still hostile except for a woman named Taka (Yayoi Watanabe), who was destined to be his wife. With something to live for once again Akira Inugami decides to take his stand against both his former captors and the ancestors of those who murdered his people.
If only the movie was as impressive as its premise. The biggest impact it had was on Kazumasa Harai who, after 15 minutes at the premiere screening, walked out after summoning his inner Alan Moore and threatening to sue everyone involved while making it clear Toei Studios would never get the rights to another one of his properties. As for Chiba he does a decent job of being a stonefaced wolf person - again, without ever actually becoming a wolf - but he barely remembers making the film. Yamaguchi is the same, just remembering some of the more dangerous stunts, but largely wondering why of all films to come out of Toei around that period anyone in the U.S. would even bother wanting to see Wolf Guy.
The movie itself is a mess. Whenever any type of plot point comes up that could be interesting - Akira's monthly day of invincibility, a human invested with Inugami's powers or even Miki's revenge plot - the movie goes running off in another direction. It doesn't help that Akira himself is not the greatest hero around. Almost every woman immediately gets naked for him within a few minutes of being in his presence, but other than that his abilities seem to lead to him getting captured and tortured as often as they do to providing him what he needs to beat up a ton of government henchmen dressed as ninjas. It starts out as a supernatural police procedural, becomes a yakuza film for a bit and then a comic book sci-fi movie.
Low budget or not, if Fumio Kônami's script had chosen one direction and stuck with it this could have lived up to its reputation. The music is great, while some scenes - including one where Inugami heals himself as the full moon rises - are great. The tiger looks ridiculous, but with all the other psychedelic elements could have worked. It just needed some sort of direction in which to move rather than just one thing after another until the movie abruptly ends. It might look cool in places and have that specific grindhouse aspect that only Japanese movies can, but overall Wolf Guy is an unsatisfying mish-mash that could have been so much better if anyone involved had actually cared what type of movie they were making.
Wolf Guy (1975)
Time: 86 minutes
Starring: Shin'ichi Chiba, Etsuko Nami, Yayoi Watanabe, Kyôsuke Machida
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi