Wild Zero: A Cross Cultural Meat Grinder

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In 1954 Godzilla lumbered out of the ocean to deliver the message that the coming nuclear age would bring terrifying consequences, but Japan had already suffered terrifying consequences. Godzilla was just as much a metaphor for America’s nuclear attack as he was for a nuclear powered future. Like America, Godzilla first came as an aggressor to destroy, but subsequently returned as an ally or champion for Japan. Japan’s ambivalence toward America’s reconstruction efforts were reflected by the fact that whether Godzilla was attacking Japan or defending it, either way Tokyo still got flattened. This monster born of Japan and America’s uneasy union eventually made its way across the ocean to The U.S. where it rained down destruction on New York City. The giant, radioactive, chicken came home to roost.

Wild Zero is a lot like a giant, radioactive chicken. It is American and Japanese culture shoved in a blender and chopped into a bloody froth of insanity. Japan has been wrestling with the conflicting desires to root itself firmly in its past heritage while also feeling an almost ecstatic admiration for American culture and the modern world. This makes for giant robot samurai cartoons and products like Pepsi flavored Cheetos. Yes, Japan has Pepsi flavored Cheetos, as well as wasabi flavored Kit Kats.

In light of these maniacal mash-ups it is easy to understand why In Wild Zero there is a scene where the Elvis inspired, black leather clad, garage band leader, pulls the head off his American made Gibson SG electric guitar and reveals that the head is actually the handle of a katana which he unsheathes and uses to cut an oncoming alien spaceship in half thereby saving the world.

Directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi in 1999 and shot in Thailand, Wild Zero centers around the adventures of a rockabilly, garage, punk band called Guitar Wolf. Guitar Wolf is a real band and what they lack in musicianship, lyric writing skills and singing ability they more than make up for in enthusiasm. With heavy Japanese accents they scream in English over impossibly distorted guitars. The singer’s mic is rigged to shoot fire when he belts out lyrics like those in the song, Jet Generation, which opens the film.

“Highway there Spark it Baby Baby

Tension Suddenly Outer Spacy

There’s a wallet on my ass with a

Rock ’n’ Roll License

Jet Generation

Barely Barely Bang Bang

Make it Flashy Riding too hard

Go go go next with Jet GO GO GO!

Born in Haneda

Jet Timing always in his head

Weather Forecast don’t mean a thing

Jet order — Bet your life!!

Jet Generation

Jet Generation Jet Generation

Jet Generation Jet Generation

Jet Generation Jet Generation

Jet Generation Jet Generation”

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We follow the band on their odyssey to escape a murderous club owner in terrifyingly, tight shorts and a page boy haircut, but there are alternate plot lines that tumble along side the central one. Wild Zero may have been made in 1999 but disregarding the linear nature of time the film is like a pill capsule filled with Wild at Heart, Dawn of The Dead, My Own Private Idaho and maybe Death Race 2000, all dissolved like an amphetamine in the bowels of a Japanese Elvis impersonator with tourettes.

The different plot lines all involve groups of people stuffed in cars hurtling down the highway. The camera bounces from one car to the other where we catch incomplete snippets of stories waiting to to be resolved. Then the hordes of green zombies appear, ushering in plenty of flesh munching, head exploding, blood dripping gore. Apparently Takeuchi got the Thai military and their families to help fill in the ranks of the undead.

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Amidst the blood splatter and pistol fire there is a very consistent message this film yells loud and clear. In Japanese it would be expressed by yelling Banzai! But since Guitar Wolf is the vehicle of expression they choose to scream “Rock ’n’ Roll” instead. This exclamation covers everything. It means be strong, have courage, let go of society’s hang ups, and be yourself. For instance when Ace, one of our protagonists, finds out that the girl he has fallen in love with is transexual, Ace panics and runs away only to be faced with a vision of the lead singer of Guitar Wolf who yells “Love has no borders, nationalities or genders! Do it!”

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There’s a kind of pathological optimism at work here. A belief that through the courage of Bushido and the swagger of the Fonz we can transcend East vs. West or old vs. modern and charge head long into the future where anything is possible. This of course includes stopping an alien zombie invasion by using glowing, neon guitar picks as throwing stars.

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I have an MFA in painting and I’m an art professor but I managed to convince the school to let me teach film. https://twitter.com/Filmofile1

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