Wicked City (Youjuu Toshi)
Japan (1987) Dir. Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Some people get shirty if others mix with those outside of their own race or religion. I wonder how they feel about mixing with someone who is not even of the same species? Probably wouldn’t go down so well, but would they be less begrudging if they knew world peace was at stake?
Unbeknownst to many in the human world, there lays an alternate dimension, the Black World, inhabited by demons who have for years signed a peace treaty to keep harmony intact between both sides. To enforce this on the human side are secret agents the Black Guard, as radicalised demons from the Black World refuse to accept humans as equals. One agent, Renzaburō Taki is fooled into sleeping with a female demon Kanako disguised as a human woman, stealing his DNA.
Ahead of a new treaty signing that will last 500 years, Taki and a female Black Guard from the Black World, Makie, are tasked with protecting a 200 year-old mystic Giuseppe Mayart, whose signature will ratify the treaty, whilst he is in Tokyo. As Demons make attempts on Mayart’s life, Makie and Taki fall for each other, which Kanako and Radicals leader Mr. Shadow decide to exploit for their own means.
Yoshiaki Kawajiri will be a name very familiar to anime fans as the director of one of the Big Three – Akira, Ghost In The Shell, and Ninja Scroll – the anime films that formed the foundation for the medium’s popularity in the west. Prior to making Ninja Scroll, Kawajiri was a co-founder of Madhouse animation studio but didn’t start directing until 1984 and that was in tandem with Kazuyuki Hirokawa.
Wanting to explore darker themes, Kawajiri opted to make an OVA based on the novel Black Guard, the first in the Wicked City series by Hideyuki Kikuchi, but the producers were so impressed they extended it to a feature length 82-minutes instead. Wicked City marks Kawajiri’s first solo outing as a director and sets out his stall for this future and more famous works, including Ninja Scroll and Vampire D: Bloodlust.
Originally released in the UK on VHS in 1994, during the “ban this filth” outrage from ignorant Daily Mail readers, it is easy to see how Wicked City would have contributed to anime’s repetition as violent porn as it is loaded with nudity, unsavoury sex scenes, and gore. The sex does have a cogent if convenient reason for happening though, even if it asks plenty of leniency from the audience to accept it; the violence, well, that is always fun in anime!
Taki and Kanako’s explicit romp occurs inside the first five minutes and without context, would appear gratuitous. As it happens, context is late in arriving, with the backstory of the two worlds and the importance of the treaty until after this all happens, an unusual approach to the narrative but a hell of a way to start the film. In short, Taki thinks he has scored as Kanako is normally unattainable but after the deed is done, she reveals herself as a spiderlike demon, boasting how she has stolen Taki’s DNA.
Because she behaves like an arachnid, Kanako doesn’t shoot webs out of her wrists like Spider-Man, and I’m sure you don’t need me to explain where they do come from. Of course, this is sexualised to the max so be prepared to be either appalled or excited by this. In fact, Kanako’s slutty spider persona is not the worst male fantasy perversion a female demon has been lumbered with – and one I shall leave to you to find out about for yourselves.
Returning to the story, Taki and Makie have their hands full protecting Mayart, a 200-year old sinewy goblin like pervert, trying his luck with Makie from the offset. It is his lust for the ladies that put his life in danger more than the threat of the radicals sent to kill him. Mayart is presented as the comic relief but with the women already sexualised to the point of exhaustion, his lascivious carry on is less amusing and more irksome.
Eventually, Kanako and Mr. Shadow kidnap Makie and take her back to the Black World to lure Taki into rescuing her. Makie is punished for siding with the human enemy via a typically on brand method for this film, continuing to perpetuate the misogynistic streak rife in anime. As you might have noticed, it is quite hard to get over the abundant sexual content present which is a shame, as there is a decent story in there, somewhere…
Made in 1987 there is lot about the aesthetic which is instantly dated, such as the use of heavy primary colours, stilted facial movements, and sharp features of the character designs. For some of us, this gives the film a nice vintage feel that you only get from cell drawn animation, whilst this new HD transfer brings out the colours and depth of the artwork to make this quite an atmospheric work.
From a historical point of view, the fact much of the action takes place at night or in the dark yet still looks clean and vivid needs to be remarked upon as this predates Akira by a year – a film that set a new benchmark in night time animation, though Katsuhiro Otomo did have a far bigger budget. Visually, there is an argument to liken this film to Akira, content wise it is a less offensive cousin of Legend of the Overfiend.
No doubt, many will argue the prurient content is relevant to the plot of Wicked City and loosely it is but it needn’t have been beholden to it. There is a line Kawajiri borders on crossing but reigns himself in at the last moment, thankfully allowing the supernatural action and non-salacious facets of the story to carry this as a reasonably acceptable outing and portent of things to come from Kawajiri.
And despite Kanako’s sexiness, I still hate spiders!