Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975) Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope / Wolf Guy / Wolfguy: Enrage, Wolfman! / Wolfman vs. the Supernatural / Urufugai: Moeru Okami Otoko (1975) -***

     About two thirds of the way through Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope, a second complete plot came to an end leaving no shortage of time still on the clock, and it suddenly hit me: this movie had to be based on a manga. There was just no other rational explanation for the headlong pace, the repeated introduction and disposal of entire supporting casts, or the apparent assumption by the filmmakers that we already knew the story, and would be able to follow along fine if they merely touched on the major highlights. And indeed a manga was Wolfguy’s proximate source material, but the story of the film’s origin is actually more complicated than that. The true beginning was a novel by Kazumasa Hirai called Okami Otoko Da Yo (He’s a Werewolf!), published in 1969. Hirai wrote ten sequels to He’s a Werewolf! over the ensuing decade, plus a parallel series launched in 1971, recounting the adventures of the same protagonist during his teen years. He also scripted the manga version, which began publishing in 1970, and appears more or less to have kept pace with the books. The first book in the teen Wolf Guy saga was then picked up by Toho to form the basis of Horror of the Wolf, released in 1973. Then at last, the rival Toei studio acquired the rights to film the exploits of the adult Wolf Guy, giving rise to the movie we’re talking about now. From what I’ve been able to dig up, Toei was much truer to Hirai’s original vision, with one rather stunning exception: Toei’s Akira Inugami, although possessed of superhuman strength and reflexes, invulnerability to conventional weapons, and a variety of other powers which wax and wane in synch with the phases of the moon, never once turns into a wolf.

     A man in a white suit (Rikiya Yasuoka, from Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter and Sexy Pudding: Almost Addictive) runs through the streets of Tokyo by night, freaking out about a tiger. Most of the people whom he bumps into in his flight plausibly assume that he’s having a bad psychedelic drug trip, but the one who witnesses his demise in a squalid alley (Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, of Message from Space and The Street Fighter) learns the strange and hideous truth. White Suit spontaneously acquires exactly the sort of wounds you’d expect a big cat to inflict, and while no such animal is visible at the time, a phantom tiger appears a moment later as if to gloat over the mauled body. The creature vanishes in just a few seconds, leaving no trace of itself save the mangled corpse of its victim.

     The opening credits intrude at that point with important information, but it’ll be a while before we understand the full significance of what we see. The people being gunned down in the artificially distressed, black-and-white footage behind the barrage of names are the Inugami clan, who once dwelled somewhere in the wooded mountains of Japan’s interior. The men doing the shooting hail from the next village over. And the motive for the massacre is implied by the very name of the folks on the receiving end: “Inugami” means approximately “Dog God.” Oh— and one more thing… The little boy who alone survives the slaughter? That’s Akira Inugami, who grows in the fullness of time to be Sonny Chiba.

     Anyway, I’m at a loss to tell you just what Inugami does for a living, but it certainly involves investigating things. I think he supposed to be some manner of journalist, although no editor, newsroom, or press pass is ever in evidence. He’s definitely not a plainclothes cop, at least not if we can judge from the way a couple of those treat him during an interview about the incident in the alley later that night. In any case, a colleague of Inugami’s called Arai (Harumi Sone, from Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams and Legend of the Eight Samurai) looks to be a rather more thorough and effective investigator than our hero, because he’s the one who keeps popping up with new information pertaining to the curious death. For starters, White Suit’s real name was Hanamura, and he used to be a member of a rock band called Mobs. Mobs has had an astonishing mortality rate since they broke up; now that Hanamura is dead, only lead singer Hiruma (Kinji Takanami, of Sex Rider: Wet Highway and The Killing Machine) remains. And although the details are unclear, Mobs has been linked in various ways to three parties at whom Inugami ought to take a closer look: a street gang called Tsukada, a shady record producer by the name of Keiichi Manabe (Hiroshi Nawa, from She-Cat and Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds), and singer Miki Ogata (Private Lessons II’s Etsuko Nami), whose career took a drug-related nosedive immediately after Manabe introduced her to Mobs.

     Inugami and Arai seek out Hiruma first. He too is a junkie bum these days, although I’m not sure I blame him considering what’s been happening to all his old bandmates. The reporters (or whatever) get out of Hiruma the story of how Mobs were ordered to gang-rape Miki Ogata, and how one of them infected her with syphilis while they were at it. Hiruma is reluctant even now to finger Manabe as the one who put them up to the crime, but he can’t keep secrets from Arai. In general, though, the interview raises as many questions as it answers— not least because it’s quickly cut short by the intervention of some Tsukada goons. Inugami holds his own against the gangsters (evidently lycanthropy confers a black belt in karate), but not so much that he isn’t happy to take the offer of a getaway when a girl he’s never seen before (Kumi Taguchi, from Beast in the Shadows and Tokyo Emmanuelle) races up to him on her motorbike and tells him to hop aboard. The biker girl’s name is Katie, but we won’t be learning that until her death scene nearly an hour from now. By contrast, we’ll be seeing her tits in about three minutes, when Katie follows up the rescue by inviting Inugami directly into her bed.

     Meanwhile, Arai uncovers a story that might explain Manabe’s motive for ordering the assault on Miki. It seems she was dating a young man named Junichi Fukunaka (Graveyard of Horror’s Ryuji Hayumi)— the son and heir of conservative politician Yoshiyuki Fukunaka (Hiroshi Kondo, from Island of Horror and Sister Street Fighter). The relationship was inconvenient for the elder Fukunaka, because it was his plan to cement a crucial political alliance by marrying Junichi to the daughter of a fellow statesman. When Junichi refused to break it off with Miki, his father hatched a scheme to render her so permanently unacceptable that the lad would have no choice but to reconsider. The elder Fukunaka apparently went to the Tsukada, who went in turn to Manabe, who entrusted the execution of the plot to Mobs. Inugami finally contributes an insight of his own at that point: the “tiger” that’s been hunting the musicians is a manifestation of Miki’s desire for revenge. Akira tracks the girl down, and tries to get her to accept the help that might bring her piece of mind. Instead, this phase of the film ends with Miki’s phantom tiger laying waste to just about everybody short of Yoshiyuki Fukunaka himself.

     Maybe if Miki had gone all the way to the top, the whole of phase two could have been avoided. Then again, maybe the death of Fukunaka Senior would only have encouraged the new villains to act even more decisively. Katie betrays Miki and Akira to the government agency for which she apparently works— an outfit that dwells in the darkest shadows of Japan’s intelligence and security apparatus. These mysterious spymasters see a lot of potential in the pair’s unusual talents. Miki’s tiger-themed death-curse could revolutionize the practice of assassination, and Katie’s bosses are by no means the first to recognize the military applications of lycanthropy. Inugami refuses to cooperate, of course, but his captors came prepared for that. After all, the sky’s the limit when you’re torturing somebody who can’t die from any injury not inflicted by silver! Alas for them, the spies haven’t been as clever as they believe. They had Katie bring Akira in just a few days before the full moon, so they quite rapidly have a full-strength werewolf on their hands. Also, it never occurred to Katie’s bosses that she might fall in love with Inugami, and switch sides on them when they could least afford it. Granted, the spymasters have had time to create a wolfman of their own (Toshimishi Takahashi, of Mechanical Violator Hakaider and Fist of Legend) by injecting a special forces soldier with Inugami’s blood, which could complicate the captive’s escape some. I’m betting, though, that synthetic lycanthropy is no match for the real thing.

     Inugami’s experiences with the werewolf-industrial complex leave him so disgusted with humanity that he leaves Tokyo upon completing his escape, and returns to the land of his birth. Yes, I know— ass-awful humans were the reason why he left what remained of home in the first place, but the filmmakers remember that, too. No sooner does the last of the Inugami set foot on his native soil than he is set upon by the sons of the bigots who made him the last. This time, though, Akira has an unexpected ally in a girl named Taka (Yayoi Watanabe, of Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion and The Lustful Shogun and His 21 Concubines). Her parents had been the Iungami’s sole friends among the villagers who later slaughtered them; indeed, they liked Akira’s mother so much that they named Taka after her. This Taka shares her elders’ sympathies. As soon as she can, she frees Akira, helps him get away from the village, and goes to live with him in the woods as his lover. Of course, we all must realize that a confrontation threatening to reenact the long-ago massacre is in the offing, but Akira and Taka also face something far more dangerous than a posse of armed hillbillies. Those spies Inugami escaped from have figured out where he went, and they’re coming for him with a weapon even deadlier than a counterfeit werewolf.

     Those of you who were fans of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” may recall an early episode in which the “experiment” was a bewildering Japanese sci-fi film called Mighty Jack, which had been haphazardly cut down from an entire season of series television. Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope offers much the same experience, but without as good an excuse. With three times as much plot and three times as many characters as a film of its length can gainfully employ, Wolfguy leaves the viewer dizzy, breathless, and full of half-articulated questions that will never be answered except perhaps by recourse to the source material. It’s the kind of movie you just have to let carry you away with the current, lest you drown in your efforts to make sense of things. Don’t ask why Miki’s curse manifests itself as a ghostly tiger; don’t worry about where the other werewolf guy came from, or whether you’ve ever seen him before; don’t sweat the Oedipal weirdness of the love scene between Akira and Taka; don’t trouble yourself over who the fuck Katie even is. And whatever you do, be sure to leave a nice, wide buffer zone between yourself and the question of why this supposed wolfman ever turns into a wolf. If you can manage all that, then Wolfguy is oodles of screwy, only-in-the-70’s fun. If you can’t, then you’ll be going, “I feel you, Wolfguy. I feel you all the way…” when the surgical torture scene in the second segment comes around.

     As I’m sure you can tell by now, Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope is packed to the gills with unexpected things, but I think the thing I expected least was to be reminded of Waldemar Daninsky. Maybe that shouldn’t seem so strange, though. After all, Daninsky too is a 70’s werewolf played by a taciturn slab of rough-hewn beef, and his later adventures grew loopy in the extreme. Maybe not Wolfguy loopy, I grant you, but Curse of the Devil and Night of the Howling Beast served up some pretty weird shit— and they did it right around the same time as Wolfguy. Sonny Chiba really does have much the same screen presence as Paul Naschy, too, even if he mostly specialized in action rather than horror. Neither man seems like he should be at all charismatic, but both tend to dominate whatever they appear in as if by sheer psychic weight. In Wolfguy, Chiba spends way more time nodding and scowling (and banging girls much, much prettier than him) than he does roundhouse-kicking bad guys into next Tuesday, and I would have expected that to place him at a disadvantage. But it turns out Chiba gives really good nod-and-scowl. I’m still a little steamed that we never get to see him trying to act through a face full of yak hair and a mouth full of doggie dentures, but this’ll do.



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