It’s only ten minutes into Wild Zero when it is clear this film is heading for a perfect rating on my chaos meter.
Just before the ten-minute mark we’re in the back room of a club witnessing a stand-off between Guitar Wolf (the band, which is made up of men named Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf), a gangster-like talent booker and his henchmen. By this point in the film not much has happened. We’ve met Ace (Masashi Endô), a greaser who loves Guitar Wolf and rock ‘n’ roll in equal measure, and he’s waiting outside the door of this back room to meet his heroes. Just then our dubious talent booker, pointing a gun at the band, says “Rock ‘n’ roll is over, baby” and triggers the beginning of the mania.
Rock ‘n’ roll is sacred in Wild Zero. It’s a battle cry, a rallying call and a vote of confidence. From the start it’s clear that Guitar Wolf are heroes beyond their mastery of the stage show, and it’s all because of their relationship with rock ‘n’ roll.
Upon hearing words disparaging rock, Ace runs into the room screaming that it never dies, and gets punched in the face by a henchman. Then a gun goes off and a man’s head blows up. The talent booker loses a few of his fingers in the chaos, and then he takes a couple of pills and runs into the street shooting a sawed-off shotgun all around. This is the kind of chaos I’m looking for.
It’s telling that the DVD for Wild Zero comes with a built-in drinking game that dares you to drink every time there are flames or something explodes. Both are ubiquitous in this manic road movie. Every time a motorcycle rides through or Guitar Wolf takes the stage, flames shoot out of exhaust pipes and microphones. Once, when a guy is robbing an Esso station, he inexplicably turns into a fireball. It also makes perfect sense that the film is the feature debut of music video director Tetsuro Takeuchi. Wild Zero has the non-stop excitement of a music video, and the premise that rock ‘n’ roll will save the world makes sense in such a realm.
Another tenet of the drinking game is to drink whenever a zombie’s head explodes. Yep, this film also has zombies. Alien-made, blue zombies.
The blue zombies, like most zombies, slowly roam the countryside looking for human victims to eat. They are the tools of the aliens (who we never see beyond masses of their vehicles shooting around the skies) who want to take over the Earth. Their purpose is unknown beyond that, but they’re a perfect plot device to ramp up the excitement in Wild Zero. And really, that’s enough for me.
Every character in Wild Zero is on a journey, and as such there are a lot of converging characters throughout the film: a woman named Tobio who Ace meets and falls in love with at a gas station, an arms-dealing woman whose clothes are fucked with by zombies while she’s taking a shower (leading to a naked gun fight and lots of success in the drinking game due to multiple zombie head explosions), a group of friends on the road to find a meteorite and some Yakuza on their way back from a wedding. They all come together with Guitar Wolf to either fight the zombies or become them.
While some characters easily fall prey to the zombies, Ace’s rock ‘n’ roll spirit allows him to fight off hordes with nothing but a mop and a crowbar. Guitar Wolf fights with a little more power and style. When he first encounters a pile of zombies that come riding in on the arms dealer’s Humvee, he throws guitar picks like shurikens and takes out the whole lot. Later, in the final zombie battle, he blows up a whole car covered in zombies with a single gunshot (behind his back!). Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf are equally cool with their killing style. They take zombies in stride, nonchalantly gesturing to a mob out their car window while listening to rock ‘n’ roll, and Bass puts a hole through the guts of the talent agent (who is radioactive by the end) with a bazooka while Drum combs his hair.
At once a rock ‘n’ roll road movie, a sci-fi action film and a horror-comedy, Wild Zero is reminiscent of Raising Arizona in its energy (motorcycles, car chases, exaggerated fight scenes, important hairstyles) but the grounding force of the film is the love between Ace and Tobio (Kwancharu Shitichai). While most of the film feels like an excuse for action and rock, the duo bring about the film’s optimistic moral about self acceptance and sex positivity. One of the key moments in the film is when Ace is struggling with the realization that his love, Tobio, has male genitalia. In that moment, an image of Guitar Wolf (the person) shows up to give Ace some advice: “Ace! Love has no borders, nationalities or genders. Do it!” As Ace struggles to find Tobio in the zombie mess, he realizes this is the truth.
With an uncountable number of explosions, lots of rock n’ roll, a guitar that turns into a sword, and Guitar Wolf playing a solo as he jumps from a burning building, this film ranks a 9.5 on my chaos metre. At this point I don’t know what would warrant a 10, if not this, but I feel like I’ll know it when I see it.