Thursday, 30 October 2014

Halloween 31 For 31: Wild Zero (1999)

Dir. Tetsuro Takeuchi

Returning to this means returning back to about, say, eighteen or so, at college and discovering cult cinema in between study. I'm not nostalgic for the period. I can't remember exactly what the viewing experiences were like because, honestly except the films that stuck with me, positively and negatively, I was more concerned with the discover of films rather then how, and with getting my A-levels done. I was also a miserable sod in hindsight who hated a lot of films that I now love, and a few of the films I saw on old DVD released have never been re-released, now out-of-print and not easy to even rent. Wild Zero is in fact a film I've never returned to until now, and I appreciate second hand stores more so than any nostalgia for viewing experiences because barring those which had importance, the films themselves are of greater concern then where I acquired a copy from and what the mood was like viewing them. When Blockbusters could have some decent gems hidden in their second hand bins. When Blockbusters actually existed...anyway, a meteorite hits Japan, or what is perceived to be a meteorite as its established for viewers to be a UFO. Around the crash site in a tiny Japanese town in the countryside are pulled in various individuals, all of which regret being there when the UFO has led to a zombie outbreak taking place. Amongst the individuals is protagonist Ace (Masashi Endô), a huge fan of the (real life) band Guitar Wolf who, after a prologue scene, is given a whistle to call upon them if things turn bad for him. There's Tobio (Kwancharu Shitichai), a potential love interest with more to her then meets the eyes, a trio who regret wanting to see the "meteorite" crash site, a female arms dealer and the criminals who wanted to purchase equipment from her, and a man in golden hotpants called Captain (Makoto Inamiya), a sleazy music manager who wants the heads of former employees Guitar Wolf. Guitar Wolf themselves - the titular Guitar Wolf on vocals and lead guitar, and Bass and Drum Wolf, march in to help deal with the zombie threat when beckoned and look cool. Unfortunately I've never seen KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park (1978), so I can't really make a joke about it in comparison to this. That and the fact that along with American greasers, I suspect The Ramones may have been an inspiration for the Japanese rock band instead.

Of importance for me viewing this film again is this belongs to the small but pronounced sub-genre of Japanese zombie films. The Japanese cremate their dead, so the concept of the zombie would be difficult to do in terms of logic unless aliens, curses or bio weaponry is involved, which places the films into a hive of self referencing other films by proxy unless a very different take was done on the concept. They've only become common within the Millennium or so, over live action and anime, and it wouldn't be coincidence that the obsession with them grew as zombies became a pop culture phenomenon in the West too, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1985) and his zombie films in general leading to this massive fad of everything brain eating and decayed. As is the case with manga and anime High School of the Dead (2010), it doesn't jar against titillation either for the Japanese entries. The Japanese films I've seen since this nearly started as a fad have had a distinct personality to them, although it's now apparent, revisiting this one, that a lot of Japanese pop culture what've I've encountered from the Millennium, or at least the late 2000s, has been created by individuals who are film geeks like in the West and also possess the concept of irony. A lot of the films I've seen are by people who have been directly referencing films like Romero's or The Evil Dead (1981) in some way or form, which Wild Zero does at one point too. In a peculiar circumstance this film seems to predict what would happen in Japanese cult cinema over the next ten years or more, made in 1999, the Sushi Typhoon movies evoked watching this that seem to have ran with what this one had in mind in terms of tone and presentation. The ironic films of such studio seemed to replaced the working directors of before, and Wild Zero is a predecessor of this movement, becoming the cult films for English speaking countries from Nippon.

It's difficult to elaborate on the plot of Wild Zero because it's an incredible mess. There are moments and a plot thread or two that exist - Ace needing to overcome the zombies and hang-ups around Tobio's secret through the virtue of rock 'n' roll, Captain wanting revenge on Guitar Wolf for missing fingers and a wounded pride after a prologue shootout - but mostly its inconsistent and rambles on. This is the sort of film that teaches me that complete randomness is not actually surreal or unconventional - one cannot create a weird sensation through being deliberately trying to be weird. It's not just because its irritating instead, but also the paradox of surrealism as an idea - it suggests complete automatic randomness, but to actually work it needs a controlled logic. It's got to make sense to be senseless, which is why a truly weird film has a meaning to allow the weirdness to exist, or is bouncing off the rubber walls and creating a meaning from the gibberish that has an external logic to it. No idea is too random in a perfect weird film because someone has done it on purpose or, if it was an accident, they've let it be absorbed into the content or been forced to only have one take or stuck with a producer's son whose wooden acting. Wild Zero is aiming for the later clearly but is being deliberate, trying to catch lightning in a bottle, and doesn't have the logic or the madness to work. It's not trying to be deliberately bad, thank God, but its trying to be intentionally dumb returning to it, cool but also being laughably silly at itself. It's a film, as a result, that does things just because, not for a payoff that it'll milk for humour, cool scenes or something memorable, but just because in an inconsistent way. The zombies are just there, which is an immediate symbol of this fatal flaw, barring to chew down on characters who aren't given a real reason to be of interest. The aliens are there to explain the zombies but don't play an important part as the villains of the piece, just cheap CGI. Zombies just chew up a female characters clothes while she's having a shower just for the sake of her wearing a tartan one piece costume for the rest of the film, but the film never really uses the sexy tough female character its introduced at all or isn't actually interest in sex and nudity of any kind either after that scene. There is a difference between self indulgence and empty indulgence when the later means a ridiculous event may happens but is never registered and ran with.

The jokey tone makes the film suffer more, not taking itself seriously to the point that you don't care about any of it at all. The result is actors mucking around, which would've fun while filming it, but without context of that fun, the merriment in context of being on the film set, makes the film hollow. Wild Zero, in its speedy tone, could've worked if you were able to savour the contents. The goofy nature of the characters against the situation taking place. The music by itself, not in terms of a score. The fact, the thing I remembered the most from the film, that an incredibly progressive love story exists in the centre of it just for the hell of it with an irrelevance, Guitar Wolf appearing as Ace's conscious to belittle him for not following the path of true rock 'n' roll, and not make a maudlin, patronising song and dance about it. But the film doesn't stretch and take advantage of these virtues and best aspects. Instead its ADD, hyperactive filmmaking all about quirkiness, incredibly loud and all over the place visually. Audibly too, the songs in the score good by themselves but not with the images; as a heavy metal fan, it's the same problem with heavy metal in most films in that the music is too fast to properly synch with even a quick paced sequence in a film fully, creative an audio-visual sludge expect for the rare cases a film maker has managed to get the synch of image and music right. The entirety of it baring bright spots - the fake CGI headshots, the screaming characters, the abrupt plot additions - is in fact a sludge, never synching up into something consistent either, without a clear concise tone to it to be entertainingly ridiculous. Instead its tiring, the climactic battle abrupt with no payoff or amusement. You don't get satisfaction with the film like you might've if a Takashi Miike of the 1999-2000 period was directing it.

Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Wild Zero would qualify as a weird film for others. For me, it's not. There is nothing unconventional about any of the content in this in the truest sense. It may be strange when you first encounter it, but to be truly unconventional is not just stick things together that look intentionally "weird" but the subtle, minor details that catch you off guard. It's a further problem because of the whole issue surrounding the "weird Japan" mentality a lot of fans of Japanese pop culture, including myself, are in danger of encouraging. For everything that is legitimately bizarre that has come from Japan, even having never stepped onto the country's soil, we should take a pinch of salt and realise that there is normalacy, people going to work every day like in the West, and country villages and small towns with populations that mostly don't care about such strange material, nor even know of the existence of low budget zombie films like Wild Zero. The film never feels like it would baffle those who've encountered the truly strange in cinema either. This film, and I could so easily get into snobbery with this statement, is surface level weirdness which isn't any deeper, defined by surreal by someone who hasn't read what surrealism actually means.

A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
No, because disappointingly, it's turned out to be the stereotype of the film that I am bored with - cult films all about laughing at their own silliness and without any meat to them. If you get used to a lot of odd, weird films, watching a lot as I have, not a professional expert on this subject, not someone who claims to be better and know more than anyone, but having watched so many and read up on appropriate subjects connected to this topic, this isn't remotely going to be on the list. Sadly films ran further with this in Japanese cult cinema, not just Sushi Typhoon, and I've been there watching movies that I have not found any real entertainment in baring an occasional chuckle.  

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