Yoshiaki Kawajiri is not afraid to go all out in this 1987 neo-noir horror.
“A new treaty, the start of a new life, and a new world.”
The eighties was a fun time for anime, especially movies. Due to the availability of home video and the countless OVAs that followed it was something of an experimental time, with post-Star Wars space operas like Space Battleship Yamato; beautiful, abstract pieces such as Angel’s Egg, and plenty of forays into different genres. At this time, Madhouse were also trying out new ideas: they let Yoshiaki Kawajiri write, direct, design and lead the animation team on his adaptation of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Wicked City series.
In Wicked City, there is another dimension beyond our own, known as the Black World, filled with demons and other monstrosities. For centuries, a peace treaty has prevented war from breaking out and has kept humans largely unaware of this other world. Taki is a member of the Black Guard, an organisation which hires agents from both sides, to enforce the treaty. After (regrettably) hooking up with a demon masquerading as a regular woman, he is informed by his boss that the Black World Radicals – a terrorist group for which his latest hookup is a member – has been stirring up trouble lately.
He is tasked with protecting Giuseppi Mayart, an emissary from the Black World and signatory for a ratified treaty who is being targeted by the Radicals. He is teamed up with Makie, a member of the Black Guard from the other world. They attempt to keep Mayart safe in a shielded hotel but the Radicals quickly find them, and after Mayart escapes to get laid, Makie and Taki face a night full of danger, horrors, and some of the most grotesque sex scenes this side of Eli Roth.
The film is adapted from the first of a series of novels (and likely done to capitalise on the success of another Kikuchi novel a couple of years back, Vampire Hunter D), which puts into context this nagging feeling the audience might have: that the entire thing feels introductory. Just as you think things are going to take a crazy turn and get really out of control, that’s when the film stops. Not that it ends abruptly or anything: it wraps up its storyline quite nicely. You’re just sort of left wanting more, or expecting a sequel or a follow-up TV series. That nothing has come of it since is something of a disappointment.
Or maybe this is for the best. Wicked City’s strength does not lie in its subtlety and while a simple 90 minutes of this sort of over-the-top exploitation works, an entire series of movies like this could very well tip the franchise into nigh-unbearable territory. The thing is that, for this movie, it does kind of work. Filled with all sorts of nightmares, Wicked City is fantastically imaginative. There’s a mix of perverse and truly awful that really fits with the demonic theme of the movie. It makes sense that a spider lady would spin webs from her split-open pelvis, sexiness be damned, or that a fiendish prostitute would attempt to kill somebody by absorbing them into her gooey self.
Wicked City is not a film for everyone. The violence is extreme, and the sex is even more so. Not that any of it is sexy, it really isn’t. But, hey, it’s demons. Rage creatures who thrive off sex, violence and other animalistic urges. It makes sense that brutal rape is just a normal thing they do. But it doesn’t make it particularly pleasant to sit through. Your mileage will definitely vary here: if you liked Vampire Hunter D, you’ll probably get a kick out of this. The animation is slick and even beautiful at times, but if the subject matter isn’t your thing then no amount of cool moments will change your mind.
Overall, Wicked City seems to be an exercise in just how much an OVA can get away with. While later movies will push this envelope even further, this one still manages to shock while being entertaining. It’s definitely worth watching, despite its fairly bland characters, just for its many awesome moments but it’s no stretch of the imagination to see this as being divisive among audiences. Chances are you’ll be in one of two worlds after seeing this film, but the question is, which do you choose?
Verdict: Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s film never shies away from its titular wickedness, even when it maybe should.
Overall entertainment: 7/10 (give or take)
Interesting characters: One or two
Cool Sequences: Lots
Plot Twist: Weird. It barely seems to make sense.
Follow-ups: Sadly none.
MVP: Makie. She goes through some serious shit in this film.
Wicked City (1987)
Also known as: 妖獣都市 Yoju Toshi, lit. “Supernatural Beast City”
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Writers: Yoshiaki Kawajiri (as “Kisei Choo”), Hideyuki Kikuchi (novel)
Renzaburo Taki – Yusaku Yara
Makie – Toshiko Fujita
Giuseppi Mayart – Ichiro Nagai
Mr. Shadow – Takeshi Aono
Kanako – Mari Yokoo
Black Guard President – Yasuo Muramatsu
Hotelier – Tamio Oki
Jin – Koji Totani
Soap Girl – Arisa Andou
Clinic Director – Kazuhiko Kishino
Ken the Bartender – Ikuya Sawaki
Demon Temptress – Asami Mukaidono
Doctor – Masato Hirano