WOLF GUY (1975) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Arrow Video USA

Toei's batshit crazy anime adaptation WOLF GUY comes stateside on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Arrow Video USA.

The last surviving member of a werewolf tribe whose village was massacred when he was a boy, Inugami (Sonny Chiba, STREETFIGHTER) works in Tokyo as a reporter, and his stories often involve him in strange circumstances: the latest has him witnessing Mobs musician Hanamaru torn to pieces in public by invisible claws, claiming with his dying words that he has been cursed by someone named Miki. After being cleared of suspicion when the autopsy report comes back revealing cause of death by demon(!), Inugami starts looking into the case with the help of tabloid reporter Arai who informs him that two other members of the same band have been killed in the same manner. From the terrified sole surviving member Hiruma, they learn that Miki was an up-and-coming singer working under their manager Manabe, and that they were ordered to gang rape her. One of the members had syphilis and Miki was driven mad. As soon as he tells them the story, they are attacked by the murderous Tsukada gang who are on Manabe's payroll but manage to get away. Arai disappears but Inugami is able to learn from his notebook that the order to rape Miki came from higher up and involves a potential scandal. He finds the girl who makes the rounds singing at strip clubs in order to pay for her drug habit and conjectures that her anger and thirst for vengeance has conjured up a tiger demon capable of killing for her subconsciously. He offers to help Miki find a cure and seek vengeance but they are both grabbed by a sinister government organization who brainwash Miki and use her as a "robot" to assassinate targets. Inugami is tortured when he refuses to work for them and his blood is transfused into another man to create another werewolf. In the middle of the lunar cycle, Inugami is able to free himself and returns to his home village with his enemies in tow and a band of hunters descended from those who massacred his village waiting for him.

Based on the manga by Kazumasa Hirai (8 MAN), WOLF GUY – actually WOLF GUY: ENRAGED LYCANTHROPE as the subtitle reads – is a sequel to Toho's HORROR OF THE WEREWOLF produced by Toho and featuring Tarô Shigaki (ZERO PILOT) as a young Inugami. Toei's entry with Chiba in the lead appears to have been a non-starter as a series, but has all the hallmarks of having been planned as one with Inugami bedding girls who seem as though they are going to be allies for the long haul of the film only to be knocked off not long after stripping and intervening to get Inugami out of a jam. After a heavily stylized first two-thirds set in the city with canted angles, neon and gel lighting, pop-art production design, and some almost Fulci-esque gore, the third act is mostly set in and around a quarry where there is more gunfire than martial arts leading up to a rushed ending where characters are simply dispatched and Inugami is left stumbling away like OUTLAW GANGSTER VIP's Goro in hopes of a sequel. Other than the gore, special effects are almost nil with lycanthropy suggested by Chiba's wild hair while he fights with some flips, scratches with invisible claws, and takes out some enemies with razor sharp coins. While other Toei, Toho, and Nikkatsu series had similar formulas, the individual entries were enjoyable in themselves. WOLF GUY has great elements but feels as if it ran out o steam and the filmmakers hoped that they might make something better of a follow-up.

Unavailable until now in English-friendly form, WOLF GUY comes to Blu-ray/DVD combo in a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 encode that bears some of the defects of other masters of Japanese films of this period. While the cinematography has some softness and focus issues as well as some underexposed areas of the frame with higher grain, the black levels fluctuate between deep and somewhat grayish. The bitrate is high and close-ups are well-defined, as are some long shots suggesting that others may have been either diffused or the focus not always rock-solid. The LPCM 1.0 encode of the Japanese mono track vividly conveys the melodramatically-delivered dialogue, exaggerated foley effects, and the funky, Blaxploitation-esque scoring of Hiroshi Baba. Optional English subtitles are provided.

Extras consist of three new interviews and the film's theatrical trailer (2:55). In his interview (10:31), director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi (KARATE BULLFIGHTER) discusses his beginnings with Toei as an assistant director before getting his first opportunity to direct when he was asked to pitch a vehicle for singer Keiko Fuji which kickstarted the DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS series. After the two WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY entries with Meiko Kaji, he was to work with Angela Mao (ENTER THE DRAGON) on SISTER STREETFIGHTER but visa problems prevented her from entering the country and he ended up casting the Chiba-trained Etsuko Shiomi (KARATE KIBA). He was unfamiliar with the Wolf Guy manga series but knew it was popular. He reveals that the production was indeed low on money, resources, and time to realize anything in the way of make-up and transformation effects for the werewolf and concedes that CGI might actually have helped here. In his interview (17:30), producer Tatsu Yoshida (WOLVES, PIGS & MEN) reveals that he was ready to throw in the towel as a production coordinator but found himself energized by the appointment of new, young Shigeru Okada and the studio's turn towards box-office friendly genres which provided a greater creative freedom and a "win some, lose some" attitude. Of WOLF GUY, he recalls the amusing incident in which Hirai attended a screening and was so enraged that he vowed that Yoshida would never touch another of his works. The interview with actor Sonny Chiba (14:31) is actually the first part of "A Life in Action" with a further installment or two presumably to come on other Arrow releases. Here, Chiba discusses his work in the action genre and his regret that he did not work in more diverse roles and projects. He discusses the founding of the Japanese Action Club stunt school and the importance of training performers in both stunt work and acting. Not supplied for review were the reversible cover and the first-pressing-only illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Patrick Macias and a history of Japanese monster movie mashups by Jasper Sharp. (Eric Cotenas)