Tuesday 18 June 2024

Wicked City (1987)

Wicked City is an anime feature from my favourite anime director, Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

It has a definite cyberpunk feel but this is not straightforward cyberpunk. It’s cyberpunk combined with supernatural horror. This is a movie about the confrontation of the human world and the demon world.

Renzaburō Taki is a sales manger for an electronics company but that’s just his cover. He’s actually a secret agent, a Black Guard. His latest assignment is to keep a diplomat alive long enough for a peace treaty to be signed. He’s been given a very pretty female partner. Her name is Makie. She’s from the other side. In other words she’s a demon.

This peace treaty is a peace treaty between the human world and the demon world.

Makie is a Black Guard as well. There are both human and demon Black Guards. Their job is to keep the peace between the two worlds. They’re on the same side.

Anime of this period was certainly influenced by western pop culture, and science fiction anime was definitely influenced by movies like Alien and Blade Runner. This influence however should not be exaggerated. Wicked City is very very Japanese. It reflects a Japanese view of the supernatural. In Japanese folklore for example ghosts are not necessarily evil.

A western movie, especially a British or American movie, dealing with the demon world would reflect Christian concepts of evil and sin. That is not the case with Wicked City. There are good humans and bad humans. There are good demons and bad demons. Most humans and most demons are not simplistically good or evil. Sometimes they just have conflicting agendas. The demon world is strange and alien, but not inherently evil.

In this case there are humans and demons working towards a lasting peace between the two worlds, and there are those who are working against that aim. Those working against it believe they have valid reasons for opposing the peace treaty.

The diplomat requiring protection is a demon, Giuseppe Mayart. Keeping him alive will be a challenge. He’s not very coöperative. He just wants to party. He wants to get drunk and get laid. He’s cheerful but lecherous.

The faction within the demon world that wants to destroy him is very formidable and very determined. And shape-shifting demons are very nasty enemies to tangle with. Their powers are terrifying.

Humans are by no means defenceless. The two worlds have been in contact for many centuries. That contact has been sometimes peaceful, sometimes hostile. For 500 years there has been, mostly, peace. Demons are however a potential threat and humans have developed technologies to counter that threat. That includes high-tech gadgets but it also includes what might be called spiritual technologies.

This movie has quite a few clever plot twists. Things, and people (and demons), are not necessarily as they seem.

There are those who associate 1980s/90s anime with extreme violence and sexual kinkiness, and in some cases that’s quite accurate. Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s animes in particular are often viewed in this light. When viewing Wicked City it’s easy to focus on the outrageous and outré elements, on the graphic violence, the nudity and the kinky demon sex. All those things are there, but this is also a very romantic movie. It’s sometimes horrifying and grim but it’s never nihilistic and there’s no sense of despair.

This is a love story, and that doesn’t mean it has a romance sub-plot tacked on. The love story is the core of the movie.

This is an adult anime but that doesn’t just mean nudity and sex. It means a grown-up complex approach to emotional issues and it means complex characters who learn things about themselves. Taki comes to accept that he really is an incurable romantic and he will put love ahead of duty, which inevitably leads him to question his line of work. He also has to learn to cope with a sexual and emotional attraction to a demon woman.

Makie is a demon woman but she’s as much a woman as a demon. Right from the start she is a very female character. She has a woman’s sexual desires and a woman’s emotional needs. What she has to do is figure out how to deal with the fact that she may have fallen in love with a human man. Taki and Makie both have to adapt to a situation that they find strange and bewildering.

There’s also a spiritual dimension to this movie. This becomes more and more obvious towards the end but I won’t say more for fear of revealing spoilers.

Mercifully this movie avoids politics altogether. It has much more important and interesting themes to deal with.

Like all of Kawajiri’s animes Wicked City is visually impressive. It has an aesthetic that combines some cyberpunk elements with some urban thriller elements and a touch of the gothic.

Wicked City looks great on Blu-Ray. Incidentally the 1.37:1 aspect ratio is indeed the correct aspect ratio.

Wicked City is exciting and action-packed, visually stunning, intelligent and provocative and emotionally nuanced. This is a great movie. Very highly recommended.


Morgan said...

I've always found the plot and characters kind of thin, a lot of Wicked City coasts on the strength of its aesthetics and creature design. But when the aesthetics and creature design are this strong—

Also I should probably try and watch the '92 Hong Kong adaptation sometime.

dfordoom said...

Morgan said...
But when the aesthetics and creature design are this strong—

Yes. I'm quite happy to take style over substance if the style is good enough.