I was trying to work out how to describe Tetsuro Takeuchi’s 1999 zombie/horror/punk epic, Wild Zero, when I realised that it probably is a film best described as a visceral experience that defies atypical genre classifications. It works best if you just sit back and let it absorb you with its wacky antics. That said, it’s actually incredibly well done, and almost like a distant Far East cousin in tone and intent to Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984), but with added zombies and UFO’s.
The plot centres round Mashasi Endo’s rockabilly punk Ace, a massive fan of Japanese punk band Guitar Wolf (playing themselves here, and having seen them live some years ago I’d recommend seeing them if they ever come near you) who ends up trying to help save the world from alien zombies intent on destroying the planet. In the process Ace falls in love with Kwancharu Shitichai’s damsel in distress Tobio who isn’t quite the girl he thinks she is. But all the way through he’s got the philosophy of Guitar Wolf (a three-piece band made up of Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf) telling him to keep going, and that rock ‘n roll will never die, while fighting off zombies in a variety of gory, and often amusing, ways.
Wild Zero has its flaws. At times it comes across as if it’s trying a wee bit too hard to be “cool”, not to mention it looks like a series of ideas thrown together with a paper-thin plot which tries to have ALL its cake and eat it too. It’s lunacy is excessive and it juggles more balls than Krusty the Clown with the all disparate plot points happening simultaneously. But while it tries hard to pander to cult audiences by throwing everything it can into its mix, the heart of the film is a touching romance between Ace and Tobio; which ends up sending out a genuinely progressive message among the zombies, aliens, guns and hard ‘n fast punk rock, which in turn creates a minor psychotronic classic.
Those familiar with Ed Wood’s 1959 classic Plan 9 from Outer Space might find similarities between the plots. Each film is concerned with aliens reanimating the dead to do their bidding, and both movies reside in the realms of treasured trash. Unlike Ed Wood, however, Kwancharu Shitichai set out to make something self-aware that it was anything more – no pretences; only a celebration of the low budget aesthetics and nutzoid spirit that imbues the best midnight movies. However, one thing both movies do share is a sincere honesty and passion that shines through in every frame – and they both go down well during a night of boozing with a group of friends who think they’ve seen it all…
In a decade when Japanese horror was often scary or disturbing, Wild Zero bucked the trend from the ghost stories and twisted thrillers that were commonplace at the time. J-horror enjoyed the beginning a renaissance period during the decade with films like Ringu (1998) re-cementing its place as a global force to be reckoned with. But Wild Zero was different because it was just pure unadulterated fun with a tender, sweet and mushy centre. Despite all its outlandish elements – of which there are many – it’s hard not to feel smitten by the blossoming heartfelt relationship of the two love birds. And the soundtrack rocks seven shades of samurai, which doesn’t hurt either.
Even with an often dreadful script and bloated running time, Wild Zero is the ultimate feel good film, thanks to the central romance and the rock ‘n roll antics of Guitar Wolf. It’s a film that wields the power to shred and make you believe in the power of rock ‘n roll, and that’s a beautiful belief to hold. “Rock ‘n roll is NOT over, baby. Rock ‘n roll NEVER DIES.” Amen to that.