Weird Japanese Zombies Inhabit our Pick of the Week: WILD ZERO

by Dan Tabor

I was first introduced to Wild Zero in the days of online tape trading. I was big into HK Action films at the time and one day a friend threw a copy of the oddity my way, since he knew I was a big Romero fan. Few viewings in my life compare to the first time I sat down and put Wild Zero into my VHS deck, since it was before the internet really offered anything more than a pixelated postage stamp sized trailer. So I honestly had no idea what lay ahead of me for the next 90 minutes, except it was a weird Japanese zombie film, and given my predilection for all things strange I was probably going to enjoy it.

First off the main thing that makes Wild Zero so amazing is it stars Guitar Wolf, the Japanese Jet Rock power punk trio consisting of Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf, and Drum Wolf, who just ooze cool and hair gel on screen. Guitar Wolf are kind of like the Japanese Ramones in that they are forever clad in their dark sunglasses, black leather pants, and jackets that look like something right out of the 1950s greaser flick. In the film they pretty much play themselves, albeit with super powers they may or may not really have IRL. Guitar Wolf not only save the day as you would probably expect, but also appear to Ace our protagonist from time to time in the film to give the young man a bit of sage-like advice along the way, while also constantly instilling on him the power of ROCK AND ROLL!!!!!!!!!

The film begins with a fleet of UFOs descending on the earth and then cutting to a Guitar Wolf concert, where the band is shooting lightning out at the crowd while totally rocking out. After their set, the band ends up in a Mexican stand off with the Captain, an eccentric hot pants-wearing club owner, over his treatment of a young woman backstage. Just when you thought Guitar Wolf had lost the upper hand, in comes their number one fan Ace (Masashi Endō), who provides enough of a distraction by getting knocked out that the band once again gains the upper hand and manages to escape. For his valiant efforts, Guitar Wolf and Ace become blood brothers and he is given a magic dog whistle to summon them when he’s in trouble.

This comes into play later in the film when we find a downed meteorite is to blame for turning people into zombies who are starting to overrun the area. Since this film is using the Romero zombie film as a template they are slow moving, blue-ish, and must be dispatched with a gory super exaggerated CG Japanese headshot. Another great nod to those films is the great cast of characters that band together in the film, which put the focus as much on the zombies as the eccentric group of survivors. Ace of course calls upon Guitar Wolf in the end to help him out, and they do so in a very spectacular fashion, destroying both homophobia and zombies with the power of ROCK AND ROLL!!!!!!!!!!!

Wild Zero was the feature length directorial debut of music video director Tetsuro Takeuchi and was shot in Thailand with the military and their families standing in for the zombie horde. While the film is a little rough around the edges, the editing and effects leave a bit to be desired, it’s premise is just so damn fun and gets better on repeat viewings. The best part of Wild Zero is it never even attempts to take itself seriously, and just happened to come along at the same time Takashi Miike and Ryûhei Kitamura were destroying the festival circuit with Audition and Versus respectively. While I feel like those films got their due, I sometimes feel like Wild Zero, which was released by Synapse in the US, got lost in the shuffle a bit.

Wild Zero feels like the illegitimate offspring of Dawn of the Dead and Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, with some Evil Dead 2 thrown in for good measure. It’s a film that I feel can’t be replicated now, given the world’s current obsession with zombies, and feel as fresh as it did back then. That coupled with our protagonist Ace and his awkward love story adds yet another layer of ridiculousness to the film that only endears him even more. While the film has faded a bit since the J-Horror boom of the early 2000s, I highly suggest if anything in this review peaked your interest definitely check it out. Word is they are now currently looking for funding for a sequel, which given the current undead overload, could be very interesting considering they were one of the first to revisit that genre in that manner.

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