Stephen reviews: Wicked City (1987)

Wicked City [妖獣都市, Yoju Toshi] (1987)

Starring Yuusaku Yara, Toshiko Fujita, Ichirô Nagai, Takeshi Aono, Mari Yokoo.

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri

It’s time to get out of the kiddie pool and head for the royally fucked up pool. I have thus far in my reviewing career avoided the nastier areas of anime, but that had to end sometime, and October’s horror marathon is as good a place as any to head over to the dark side. Wicked City is yet another Hideyuki Kikuchi adaptation, and like Demon City it is directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. If I was to compare that film with Vampire Hunter D, I would have to say that Toyoo Ashida was the better director for adapting Kikuchi’s works, but here Kawajiri proves that he really can handle the job just as well, if not better.

The animation is damn good, just like all his other films that I have seen, although the beginning moments felt below average. I was initially disappointed, but as soon as the first monster shows up it amps up the quality and never looks back, matching Demon City for gorgeous and grisly visuals. There’s not much outright gore, though. It’s more about crazy nasty monsters lurking around every corner than blood and guts splattered everywhere.

It also delivers a pretty solid story that goes beyond simple demons trying to kill humans. Instead there is the Black Guard, which attempts to mediate between the human world and the demon world. They are currently working on a peace treaty that will prevent outright war for another several centuries. Unfortunately some demon terrorists are out to stop the treaty by assassinating an ancient mystic named Mayart, one of the major players in creating the treaty. The main character, Taki Renzaburo, is assigned to be the man’s bodyguard along with his new partner Makie, a demon woman dedicated to the Black Guard.

Of course there needs to be some complications. Taki has some thoughts that Mayart is just a decoy to distract the demons from a more important target. And Mayart is certainly not the type to be a good diplomat as the crinkled old pervert spends his entire time trying to run off to a brothel, or at least get inside Makie’s pants, who rebuffs him at all turns. Makie is perhaps the film’s biggest flaw, as there is little explanation of her character, and we never know why she is so dedicated to her job, or why she wants peace despite being a demon. We just have to take her at face value and accept it.

The thing I was most disappointed with about her, though, is that we never see her demonic form, despite the fact that the movie is filled with some of the freakiest demons ever conceived. When the guy whose ribs shoot out from his chest and the floating head with tentacles are the throwaway villains, I want something impressive from the main characters. All Makie does is extend her fingernails into elegant knifelike blades and choke somebody with her hair. I can understand that they wanted to keep her sympathetic, especially with the romance that develops between her and Taki. Turning her into a hideous monster would have made her less alluring, and thus decreased our concern for her, but since this is something of a backwards Beauty and the Beast tale, I think it would have worked better if Taki saw and accepted Makie in her true form. Since the film is about making peace between humans and demons, this would have been all the more important to do.

But I may be misleading you with all this thematic discussion. Wicked City isn’t trying to be poignant or enlightening, and its story is more than sufficient to accomplish its goal, which is to have a wild shitstorm of demon slaying action. You need a good weapon to kill demons, and Taki has one of the coolest handguns I’ve ever seen, ranking right up there with RoboCop’s. Though instead of rapid fire speed, Taki’s boasts such a powerful blast that the recoil knocks him backwards into walls with enough force to break them. And that thing still isn’t good enough to take on all the crazy demons out there.

Kawajiri definitely lets loose the crazy, here. The only line he hesitates to cross is Japanese law that prevents showing genitalia, though he uses some incredibly grotesque loopholes to sneak some things in anyway. That’s where Wicked City becomes its most disturbing. Not only does it have lots of creepy inhuman demons, but it has lots of creepy inhuman demons having sex, even dabbling in that peculiar Japanese debauchery of tentacle rape.

Whether sexually or otherwise, this movie gave me countless eye-popping, jaw-dropping, “oh shit” moments. I’m at a bit of a loss to come up with specific examples though, because the biggest of these moments looms over my mind, blotting out most of the rest of the film. Right at the beginning it hits you with a woman turning into a spider monster with deformed arms and legs tipped with claws and a huge, gaping, fang-filled mouth where she should have a vagina.

There’s really no point in saying anything more about Wicked City. I could go on and tell you what she does with that mouth at the end of the movie, but what would be the point? You undoubtedly had one of two reactions to that statement. Either you were appalled and probably left the site already, or you’re intrigued enough to give the film a try. (And if you are a part of that rare third group that said “What? That’s it?” then may God have mercy on your poor shriveled soul.) Either way, I’ve done everything I can. Follow your gut on this one. If you’re feeling nauseous, then stay away. Stay far away. If you’re into freakish depravity, however, then this is a must see.

10 comments to Stephen reviews: Wicked City (1987)

  • Urr, I’ve read about this one (I did a lot of reading about anime recently for an essay I had to write) – I’m so tempted, but also a little scared to watch this one! Maybe…one day…soon?
    Great review!

  • Stephen

    I can understand the trepidation, but if you’re tempted it might be something worth watching. You can always turn it off if that mouth vagina freaks you out too much. You should maybe try Demon City as a warm up. I didn’t like that one nearly as much, but it does have a similar look and feel without the cringe inducing depravity. If Demon City leaves yo wanting more, then give this one a try.

  • Alright, got a chance to check this version out. There’s a lot more demons in this, I’m sure because it’s easier to show crazy demons in animation than live-action. The tone is way more serious too, and the characters are shifted around a lot. The HK one is almost a straight buddy-cop comedy compared to this. The animation, especially on the demon transformations and stuff, is really fun though. I wonder if Tsui Hark based his script on this or the novel, or a combo of both, as many of the elements here are still in the HK version, but in different ways. This version is WAY trashier, though! Old men getting handjobs, fanged vaginas, tentacle rape… definitely for adults! I’m surprised it didn’t leave a bigger impression when I saw it as a teen.

    • Stephen

      I’m surprised it didn’t leave a bigger impression on myself, since I saw it once long ago. The only scene I had any memory of was when the old man got slurped up by the demon woman he was having sex with. I can only conclude that one of my elders had a sudden fit of responsibility and prevented me from seeing the rest of it.

      It’s definitely trashy all right. I tried to find a trailer that didn’t have nudity, but I couldn’t find one. If it wasn’t so action oriented and, as you say, serious in tone, I would have to call it pornography. It’s probably the most depraved movie I’ve ever seen.

      • That scene was great! That demon is definitely where the liquid monster in the HK one comes from, but they’re very different. It definitely gets close to pornography in spots, and by close I mean a hair’s breadth away! Super trashy, but not exactly trashy in a fun way you can derive pleasure from. It just kind of made me feel dirty.

        • Stephen

          Yeah, it does make you feel dirty, but I guess I’m too used to how far anime can go. Not that it wasn’t shocking and batshit crazy, but it felt like something of a guilty pleasure for me.

          I have been getting interested in checking out some of Kikuchi’s novels, and a recent glimpse of Amazon surprised me by having a huge number of his books available in English. I kind of want to read the Wicked City stuff to compare it with the movies, but I also want to get something that was never adapted so I can go in fresh.

          As if I don’t have enough things to do…

          • Hahaha, yeah that’s how I feel about so many of the movies I watch. They open doors to other movies and then my neverending list of shit to watch never gets any smaller! I guess saying it makes me feel dirty isn’t the right way to put it; I just got a little overwhelmed with the tentacle rape. For me it crossed the line, and I didn’t think it was necessary to show it like they did.

  • Stephen

    As an anime fan, I’m all too aware that tentacle rape is an entire freaking genre in Japan, so that wound up being one of the least surprising aspects of the movie. But you’re definitely right that it went farther then it needed to. I felt kinda the same about the rape scene in Ninja Scroll (it just didn’t have the creepy tentacles), so I guess it’s something Kawajiri likes.

    • Yeah, the fact that its a genre has always bothered me, but I find it an interesting side effect of Japan’s post-WWII puritanical pornography laws. I don’t remember any rape in Ninja Scroll, but I last saw that about the time I last saw this one.

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