Wild Zero (1999)

Rock and Roll and horror movies have always been connected at the swaggering hip. From the ’50s onward they have shared an undying bond of heightened emotions, juvenile daydreaming, cheap production values, the mystique of delinquency, and high tempo drama. So, getting Guitar Wolf, arguably the finest garage rock bands to have come out of the 80’s Tokyo punk scene, and putting them in a zombie movie is a bit of a no-brainer. That the movie is this fast, chaotic, and unwilling to slow down for anyone just makes it even more perfect. That Takeuchi Tetsuro, a prominent music video director, directed this 1999 psychotronic rock-&-roll fable is just the cherry on top of the Molo

Other than the three members of Guitar Wolf playing themselves, with more cool than an iceberg, the main character of the piece is Ace (Masashi Endō), a fan of the band who accidentally saves them from a corrupt manager after one of their performances. In return for showing true Rock-&-Roll Spirit, he is given a magic whistle that will summon the band whenever he is in need. And the best bit about this whole opening is that it knows its wildly silly but it is played and shot with a perfect straight-face, making you care about the characters and feel the stakes of the situation whilst also chuckling your arse off at how funny and amazing everything your seeing is.

From there it diverges into a sequence of apparently unrelated events and briefly but expertly underplayed characters, almost like an Undead Pulp Fiction. This includes Tobio (Kwancharu Shitichai), who rapidly becomes Ace’s love interest due to random chance and him looking Marlon Brando cool on his motorbike. Oh yeah, and zombies start turning up because of the UFO armada that we saw at the start of the film, the manager from the first act is now after Guitar Wolf for revenge, and Yamazaki (Haruka Nakajo) is the scientist who knows all about the zombies AND kicks massive amounts of zombie arse AND drives a Humvee AND pulls off wearing a one-piece-Burberry swimsuit whilst doing all that AND still isn’t as cool as Guitar Wolf.

All of this is happening whilst Guitar Wolf plays in the background, vamping up the power-trio hard-rock onslaught so that even the quiet moments have an energy and urgency to them. It also helps keep the tone absolutely spot on, because no matter how silly it gets (and it does) the 4/4 beat keeps the moment making sense. There is also a mid-film break from the zombie fan for a concert video, which you won’t object to because the band has flamethrower microphones. More films need this, to the point that dropping this exact sequence into any movie will make it instantly one star better.

Away from the eating’s of faces/arms/heads by the zombies, and the battering to death of the zombies by the humans, there is a fairly standard fast-love story happening between Ace and Tobio. This crashes mid sequence when Ace discovers Tobio is transgender and runs off to be confused and upset. It’s a fairly old-school transphobic “humour” moment until Guitar Wolf appears in a vision before Ace and gives him a bollocking for his actions, declaring in no uncertain terms that “Love has no borders, nationalities, or genders!” Probably not the most traditional of ways to deal with the situation, or one that all will approve of, but for turn-of-the-century Japan, it’s staggeringly progressive and one of the sincerest moments of the film.

Eventually, things reach the inevitable climax of Ace blowing the whilst and summoning the band, who proceeds to save the day through a combination of extreme violence and positive enforcement that enables the rest of the survivors to actualise their own extreme violence. Zombies are butchered, things blow up, ray guns are used, and eventually, the UFO gets cut in half with a guitar katana. Honestly, if The Beatles had done something like this rather than Yellow Submarine the world would be a better place. Needless to say, rock-&-roll saves the day and the heroes ride off into the sunset. And you, the viewer, are left exhausted and happy at being driven through this Treasure; even if it didn’t all quite make sense. This is b-movies at its finest. Ridiculous ideas presented by people with just enough budget and talent to get their ideas (and quite a lot of blood and viscera) onto the screen. It’s fast-paced, cheerful, and ultimately optimistic. And, to make it absolutely clear, Guitar Wolf are incredibly cool all the way through it.

The Raggedyman

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