By Justin Graham / October 9th, 2013
Wicked City is a 1987 film based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, author of other adapted works such as Vampire Hunter D and Demon City Shinjuku. Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who would later direct the adaptation of Demon City Shinjuku, first served as both the director and character designer for Wicked City; a dark, sexual action film that’s almost like a demonic, adult Men in Black.
The film centers on Taki Renzaburo; a playboy employee in the sales department of a large electronics firm by day, his true occupation being a member of the Black Guard; agents that protect the delicate peace between the human world and the demon world. For his latest assignment, Taki has been assigned a partner, Makie, a beautiful female demon, and the two must work together to protect the life of Giuseppi Mayart, an important member of the demonic realm whose presence is key for a renewed peace treaty to be signed in a day’s time.
The comparison to Men in Black is one that can’t be understated. As members of the Black Guard, Taki and Makie dress in black suits with neckties, and Taki carries a pistol that carries enough punch to routinely blow him backwards any time he takes a shot. (Much like Will Smith’s “Noisy Cricket” gun.) There are times where it feels like elements of Wicked City could have been lifted for the latter Western production. But make no mistake, Wicked City is neither a comedy nor for family audiences.
In my write-up on Demon City Shinjuku last year, I described the Kawajiri Trio; three character archetypes that routinely appear in films directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. All three are present and in force in Wicked City. As a refresher, they are:
- The Reluctant Hero: The male protagonist of the story. Generally stoic and doesn’t want trouble, but will end up fighting his way to the end after being pulled in by choice, love, or duty.
- The Unfortunate Heroine: The prominent female character that serves as the protagonist’s companion and potentially eventual lover. However, she is inevitably captured by the villain and raped by demons and/or murdered.
- The Old Man: Short in stature, this old man may serve as mentor to the protagonist, or as a blistering pain in the keester. In either case, he ultimately points the hero in the direction of the quest whether his contribution is appreciated or not.
The three archetypes describe Taki, Makie, and Mayart respectively. Of the three, Taki, the protagonist, is the only one to really diverge from type. As an agent of the Black Guard, he takes his duty seriously and isn’t reluctant in his work. Yet he’s still a relatively stoic individual that by the end of the film is fighting for both love and duty.
Mayart, the old man, plays to type and serves as the film’s lone source of comic relief. Despite his importance for the treaty signing, he causes no end of trouble for Taki and Makie. He is the portrait of a dirty old man that’s more interested in seeing Makie (or really, any beautiful woman) naked, and he sneaks away from his escort to partake in some adult entertainment that only leads to more trouble. Yet, his blithe stupidity and ignorance for his own well-being are a key element in a twist that comes late in the film.
Which leaves Makie, the unfortunate heroine. This is the part where people sensitive to depictions of rape need a very strong warning. Unlike Sayaka in Demon City Shinjuku, who survives her ordeal relatively unscathed and unharmed, Makie is at one point captured by demons intent on stopping the signing ceremony and raped as a form of torture. They’re not comfortable scenes to watch. More so for the fact that following her capture and subsequent rescue, Makie is mostly sidelined from the action for the remainder of the film, save the finale. After enduring the brutal treatment of the demons, she and Taki have consensual sex, which, due to their special genetic patterns, allows Makie to conceive of a half-human child. And this conception somehow boosts her powers to the point that she annihilates the villain in a single blow.
It should be noted that this conception was Mayart’s plan all along and the primary reason he runs around acting like a perverse idiot for the majority of the film. By having the two agents work together and grow close, he needed them to fall in love and have sex in order to conceive a child before the treaty signing. His grand scheme is an incredibly moronic plan on numerous fronts that works out in the end despite all logical reason.
In short, the plot is a train wreck. But at least it’s a good looking trainwreck. Bearing an art style very similar to Demon City Shinjuku, Kawajiri’s characters, both human and demon, carry a great level of detail and personality. The action scenes are all well-choreographed and animated, with standout moments including an early fight on an airport runway and the battle at the end of the film taking place on a church rooftop. And though the sexual content is at times disturbing, credit must be given in that it is equally well-animated, even if the content itself is difficult to stomach.
The choreography and artwork are really the high points of Wicked City, leaving little else to recommend. It’s technically well-done, but the content diverges too much into the nonsensical, lessening the justification for the more disturbing elements. Viewers looking for a tamer, more approachable introduction to Kawajiri’s work would be better served by Demon City Shinjuku or the OVA series Cyber City Oedo 808, and avoiding Wicked City altogether.
Wicked City was released on DVD by Urban Vision. The release includes the original Japanese with English subtitles, as well as the English dub original produced by Streamline Pictures. The film is not rated, but contains graphic violence, nudity, and graphic sexual content, including depictions of rape.
anime of the pastHideyuki KikuchiUrban VisionWicked CityYoshiaki Kawajiri