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Wild Zero

Miles Craig is one of the most wonderfully strange friends I’ve ever known. Between his countless hours at the Hollywood Theater and all the Z-grade schlock he’s screened for friends in his backyard, I’ve come to know Miles as a connoisseur of so-bad-it’s-good cinema. Miles was one of the first people I went to with this year’s birthday project idea, and I challenged him to recommend the craziest, most obscure, most trashy, most awesomely bad horror film he could think of. Preferably something Japanese, because duh.

His response? Wild Zero.

Any discussion of this film must begin with Guitar Wolf, the so-called “jet rock ‘n’ roll” Japanese band that’s released nine studio albums (and counting) since their inception in 1987. One of them, Jet Generation, is debatably the loudest album in history. Matt Ashare of the Village Voice agreed, and also said “I think it’s fair to say they’ve essentially achieved maximum possible crappiness. It scores a perfect 10 in the crappiness-of-sound category.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Jet Generation was released in 1999, the exact same year when Guitar Wolf released their own motion picture and accompanying soundtrack.

The film itself was apparently the brainchild of director/co-writer Takeuchi Tetsuro, who reportedly begged Guitar Wolf to take part in his picture. I can’t seem to find much information on Tetsuro himself, mostly because his IMDB page is almost entirely blank. Wild Zero was his feature debut as far as I can tell, and his only other directing credit so far belongs to part of a 2010 anthology film called Flarella. However, it does appear that Tetsuro has a long and respectable career in directing music videos, to the point where he’s known as “MTV Man” in his home country.

And what of the film itself? I’ll put it to you this way: There’s a Wild Zero drinking game. And I don’t mean it’s something that fans came up with and posted online, I mean it’s something that’s packaged in the goddamn DVD. Here are the rules, straight from the special features:

Take a drink anytime

  • Someone drinks
  • Someone combs their hair
  • Fire shoots out of anything
  • Anyone says Rock n Roll
  • Something explodes
  • A zombie’s head pops

And then there’s an option to make a beer mug pop up any time one of these things happens. Not even kidding.

Wild Zero is a film that resists criticism, in large part because it’s a film that resists viewing. Not only is this a vanity project, but it’s a vanity project of something that was so defiantly loud, outlandish, and nonsensical to begin with. Sort of like if KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park was made by deranged Japanese madmen, but somehow with even less of a plot and music that’s even worse.

Speaking of the music, I now know exactly what Mr. Ashare meant when he wrote of “maximum possible crappiness.” Leaving aside the gibberish lyrics, the instruments are amplified to such an impossibly high level that they’re distorted beyond recognition. The result sounds less like music and more like wall-to-wall static. Then again, if the goal was to emulate some garage band playing a bar gig with piss-poor acoustics and an amateur sound tech, then mission accomplished.

Even better, the band dresses in leather pants and jackets, with shades and slicked-back pompadours, but with an overdressed kind of emo tone. It’s basically a cheap 21st century imitation of the old British “rocker” subculture, like someone went to a Rocky Horror screening and had to change outfits while driving to a Grease screening.

A perfect example is Ace (Masashi Endo), our de facto protagonist, a wannabe rocker and a die-hard Guitar Wolf fan. He’s also a total fop who combs his hair every five minutes, acting and moving like the Dramatic Squirrel on bath salts. He also has a love interest (Tobio, played by Kwancharu Shitichai), who’s so completely useless that she quite literally faints at the first sign of danger.

This is a fine example of the characters and storylines that comprise the entire film. All throughout this picture — especially during the first act — we’re treated to inexplicable happenings that are presented without any reason and conclude without any payoff, all carried out by characters so ridiculous they couldn’t possibly be human. Though there is one exception: You know the heavily-armed motherfucker archetype that comes standard with most zombie films? Well, this one is a beautiful woman (Yamazaki, played by Haruka Nakajo) who’s never positioned as a love interest or a damsel in distress. That’s so incredibly refreshing to see. Especially in this film, of all places.

Then of course, we have Guitar Wolf. The band’s lead singer (also named Guitar Wolf) occasionally appears as Ace’s conscience, but the band is mostly portrayed as three people who are so far above the rest of us because they’re that impossibly cool. Nothing fazes them, their actions are entirely unpredictable, and reading any kind of emotion beneath those shades would be impossible. I’m ashamed to draw this comparison, but the most similar concept I can think of is the Blues Brothers — both groups are depicted as so far removed from what’s going on around them that it’s like they’re living in parallel universes.

And then Guitar Wolf (the singer, not the band) uses lightning-charged guitar picks as shurikens to wipe out a whole army of zombies. Because he can do that. Don’t even ask.

It would be hard enough to figure out what’s going on in all this madness, but then the sped-up camerawork and spastic editing make any search for coherence impossible. In other words, this movie is so stupid that it has to aggressively beat brain cells out of its audience in order to make itself enjoyable. Sort of like alcoholism. In fact, the movie is surprisingly good at lulling the audience into that kind of discombobulated state of mind, and the sinister tactic works surprisingly well.

This seems as good a time as any to mention the premise, because believe it or not, there is a thin attempt at a premise here. The basic gist is that a meteorite landed in Japan, and the crudely-rendered flying saucers seen in the opening shot let us know that the meteorite is of alien origin. Soon after, zombies start showing up in Japan to come after our cast of characters in all their flimsy subplots.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a movie about aliens invading Earth by starting a zombie plague. You know a film was intentionally aiming for “so-bad-it’s-good” status when its premise was directly lifted from goddamn Plan 9 From Outer Space. And to this film’s credit, it actually does a better job with the idea. The zombies look scarier, there are massive hordes of them instead of only three, they’re actually killed onscreen with CGI head-bursts, and they pose more of a legitimate threat than Ed Wood’s zombies ever did. I realize that none of this is exactly saying much, but the point stands that I’ve seen a lot worse.

I had always thought that a truly so-bad-it’s-good movie could only happen by accident, like intentionally aiming for unintentional comedy was a self-defeating purpose. Yet Wild Zero is proof that every once in a blue moon, a film can strive to be so-bad-it’s-good and actually succeed. Of course, the film’s origin works heavily in its favor; the genre depends on a kind of sincere, outrageous, baffling, and over-the-top goofy that the Japanese perfected to a science years ago.

Basically put, Wild Zero is a film made for the express purpose of watching with your friends as you drink yourselves stupid. Unless you’re watching the movie within those exact parameters, don’t even bother.

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