Wild Zero (Tetsuro Takeuchi, 1999)

JAPAN’S JET ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SCI-FI ZOMBIE HORROR MASTERPIECE!

Ace, a rockabilly fan who really wants to be cool, is on his way to see his favorite rock band, Guitar Wolf, when some strange things occur … flying saucers invade the Earth and flesh-eating zombies rise from the grave! With the help of the (real life) Japanese rock-punk band Guitar Wolf, Ace negotiates an array of misadventures involving crazy rock managers in very tight shorts, transsexual love-interests, naked women shooting guns in the shower, and blood-thirsty zombies ready to tear them all apart! Music video director Tetsuro Takeuchi packs his début feature with everything you need: leather jackets, screeching feedback, laser guitar picks, motorcycles, muscle cars, and LOTS of fire! Think Dawn of the Dead meets Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park with the humor of Evil Dead 2 and you start to approach riotous and ridiculous world of Wild Zero.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Original Japanese soundtrack with optional, newly translated English subtitles
  • Director Edgar Wright on Wild Zero
  • Behind-the-scenes music video
  • Guitar Wolf: Red Idol, director Tetsuro Takeuchi’s 2003 collection of videos, tributes, and live performances
  • Original trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Rockin’ Jelly Bean
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Japanese film expert Tom Mes

See the full movie HERE.

There’s a lot of stuff in Wild Zero (1999). A meteor crashes in Asahi (with Thailand standing in for the Japanese city), flying saucers swarm the Earth, the dead rise to stagger around Night of the Living Dead-style, and a variety of characters intersect in this tangle of apocalyptic events – a noise-garage-punk band (Guitar Wolf) violently falls out with their bob-haired, hot pants-wearing, eventually electrified manager (Makoto Inamiya as The Captain), the band’s number one fan (Masashi Endō as Ace) unexpectedly falls in love with a shy trans woman (Kwancharu Shitichai as Tobio), a female arms dealer defends herself against a hoard of zombies that include her former yakuza clients, and a somewhat goofy, slightly shady couple (Yoshiyuki Morishita and Taneko) rediscover their affection under the threat of the undead. As a first time feature filmmaker and a celebrated music video director (even known as “Mr. MTV” or “MTV Man” in his homeland), Tetsuro Takeuchi might be seen as over-stuffing Wild Zero but the film is a perfect tribute to the excess that is Guitar Wolf, Japan’s extremely noisy pioneers of “jet rock ‘n’ roll.”

Wild Zero‘s not-so secret success lies in understanding Guitar Wolf and its aptly named members, Guitar Wolf (Seiji), Bass Wolf (Billy), and Drum Wolf (Toru). As the purveyors of a loud, feedback-heavy musical mix of garage, surf, punk, and rockabilly, Guitar Wolf embodies a careful aura of retro-rock authenticity expressed in über-cool stage swagger, combed-through pompadours, black leather jackets and boots, imposing sunglasses, and a defiant snarl. The risk of casting a rock act in a film, even as themselves, is that the demands placed on them by the narrative will deflate their image and reveal feet of clay, however Takeuchi avoids this by making Ace the film’s ostensible protagonist and elevating the band, particularly Seiji, to the level of rock ‘n’ roll superheroes. Seiji blows up cars with a single shotgun blast, throws laser guitar picks in rapid succession, slices an alien mothership in half with a katana hidden in the neck of his electric guitar, and, most importantly, exclaims “ROCK AND ROLL!” as a full and complete answer to all of life’s philosophical and material challenges. Wild Zero doesn’t merely cast Guitar Wolf as characters nor is it satisfied to capture the energy and attitude of the group; it elaborates on the band, translating their take-no-prisoners attitude into a gun-toting, electrically charged filmic reality.

In its way, Wild Zero operates as a kind of fanzine to Guitar Wolf and its subculture, presenting not just the wish-fulfillment celebration of the band but a cross-section of its fan base’s likely interests. The band’s blend of musical styles and eras (rockabilly, garage, punk) finds representation through a fusion of associated film genres (B-movie, sci-fi, horror) while the rudimentary zombie make-up and janky CGI for the film’ flying saucers provides the DIY vibe of a fan film. Takeuchi’s hand is also felt in the film’s editing which employs an unusually mindful grammar, frequently transitioning between scenes through slow fades to black that are conspicuously purposeful even if the scenes themselves are not. Takeuchi is just as likely to devote this contemplative punctuation to a scene of the film’s rockers doing little more than acting befuddled within a sports car as he is to a scene of personal and romantic epiphany for Ace. It’s almost as if ‘zine pages are being turned and topics are being browsed – a feature article here, a centrefold there, a cartoon here, a fan letter there.

The romance between Ace and Tobio deserves comment, particularly given that Wild Zero is nearly 20 years old and that its treatment of the attraction between the two is so remarkably assured. Some might object to Ace’s initial trans panic, but the moment is understandable for a young man who had never considered himself as anything other than heterosexual. What is impressive is that his initial counselling by Guitar Wolf is found in the succinctly shouted wisdom of “Love has no borders, nationalities or genders! DO IT!” Shortly thereafter, Ace commits himself to “doing it” (i.e. loving Tobio) and saving her from the film’s undead threat. No further discussion is made thereafter of who Tobio is or what their relationship might be. Tobio’s gender identity is never specified nor is any realignment of Ace’s sexuality defined. Toshio might reflect a culturally palatable ambivalence in gender found in bishōnen (beautiful young men than transcend heteronormative values), although one might question how far this thread can be pulled in a movie heavy on fire-spewing motorcycles, loud peals of guitar feedback, or the exploding heads of the undead. Love does emerge as Wild Zero‘s unexpected theme, defined as the purity of being contained in rock ‘n’ roll and revealed to be the only adequate reason to survive the multivalent threats contained in Takeuchi’s outlandish film. In Wild Zero, love doesn’t tear us apart, zombies do (but that shouldn’t stop us either).

The Synapse Films DVD of Wild Zero looks to still be in print and is a fairly good edition of the film, but it is nearly 15 years old and a hi-def edition now seems overdue. Arrow Video’s interest in the movie is hardly conjecture as Mike Hewitt, the label’s brand marketing manager, cited Wild Zero as a favourite film and a desirable title for the Arrow Video treatment, although Hewitt also noted some complicated rights issues that have “tangled up” to movie. MMC! loves Wild Zero too, adoring its genre-crossing/greatest hits recklessness and general badassery, and so we’ll keep candle burning in the window, or maybe a flaming microphone on stage, to light the way in the meantime. ROCK ‘N’ ROLLLLL!!!!

Credits: We’ve used the Synapse Films DVD as a base for this imagined edition, including an amended version of its synopsis. To that, we’ve added Takeuchi’s profile on Guitar Wolf, Red Idol (which may now be out of print on DVD), an essay by Tom Mes (a frequent Arrow Video contributor who previously reviewed the film for Midnight Eye), and an appreciation by director Edgar Wright (who included Wild Zero amongst his favourite 1,000 films). We rarely specify a cover artist for Arrow Video proposals given their more narrow preferences, but it’s hard to imagine a special edition of Wild Zero not involving Rockin’ Jelly Bean, Japan’s masked master of low-brow art and frequent confederate of Guitar Wolf, and so we’ve supposed an alternative cover treatment compliments of RJB.

Shout-outs as well to Dominic Griffin’s review for Birth.Movies.Death., Justin Harlan’s culturally insightful discussion at Cinepunx, and Chris Sims’s very fun review at Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog, all which aided in this imagined Arrow Video edition.

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One thought on “Wild Zero (Tetsuro Takeuchi, 1999)

  1. floodmouse May 27, 2018 / 1:08 am

    “Love doesn’t tear us apart, zombies do.” These are words to live by.

    (Thanks for that. If I was on the Pulitzer committee, you would get my vote.)

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