Retro Review: ‘Wolf Guy’
In the early 1970’s aspiring filmmaker Kazuhiko Yamaguchi was finally given his shot at directing a film when Toei producers enlisted him to adapt the popular manga Wolf Guy. While he did not really understand the source material it would finally allow Yamaguchi to not only sit in the director’s chair but also with the superstar of the Street Fighter films Sonny Chiba. He agreed and the result was the 1975 martial arts/fantasy cult classic Wolf Guy or Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope.
On the streets of Tokyo, the sole survivor of a lycanthropic ninja clan, Akira Inugami stumbles across who is violently slashed to pieces by a tiger only he can see. Naturally, this draw Akira to investigate what is going on, finding that the dead man was part of a former musical group who died in similar ways. This mystery draws him into a world of deadly gangs and secretive conspiracies at the top-level concerning a mysterious cabaret singer with a troubled past named Miki. But what does this have to do with Akira’s supernatural abilities and the legacy of his clan? Discovering the truth will take him the lowest depths of the underworld to the highest levels of the government.
It is only natural that when the lead character of your film is a cool, brooding loner with a visceral, hard-edged fighting style that Sonny Chiba is the first person you would call. In Wolf Guy the black belted star gets to show off why he, to this star, is an icon of martial arts flicks. No matter how fantastical the elements seem to get he seems to be a grounding presence. It also helps that Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, directs the movie in a slick but gritty neo-noir style which makes feel real. Oddly it was the lack of budget which helped with this, in the previous film featuring Wolf Guy, the antihero had in fact transformed physically into a wolf to crude results. Realizing he did not have the resources to improve upon this, the young director instead opted to only have Akira become stronger under the moonlight rather than undergoing a transformation. While he regrets the choice now, I think it gives a certain strength to Wolf Guy and allows it to be taken more seriously than it otherwise would have. The success of this film would indeed propel his career as Kazuhiko Yamaguchi would go on to a long and respected career making films at Toei like Sister Street Fighter and Karate Bear Fighter which have become cult favorites in their own rights.
The actor and filmmaker had forged a solid working relationship when Yamaguchi was still cutting his teeth as an assistant director. This meant when Wolf Guy rolled around Chiba and Yamaguchi knew how to bring out the best in one another leading to this incredibly cool movie as the end result. In 2017 respected DVD/Blu-Ray producer and distributor of cult, horror, and B-movies, Arrow Films expertly remastered Wolf Guy for a release that is well worth seeking out.