Wicked City

(Yôjû Toshi, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Japan, 1987)


For a long time, the amazing world of sophisticated Japanese animation led a fairly sheltered life on the cult film circuit in Australia. With numerous titles now in video shops, that most wonderful of cultural experiences is bound to happen regularly. People who know little about this genre will unsuspectingly hire a video such as Wicked City, and be completely amazed, if not traumatised, at the extremity of what they see.

Wicked City is based on a manga comic full of violence, eroticism, supernatural magic and convoluted plot moves. From the first moment it is a completely compelling action-thriller, which has already been remade as a live-action extravaganza in Hong Kong. Maki is a hard boiled cop ordered to protect the wizened, 300 year old Dr Maiyart from demons of the Dark Realm. Maki's accomplice is Takie, an enigmatic defector from the other side. As in much Japanese pop culture, apocalypse and taboo provide the twin motors of the story.

The sexual – especially genital – imagery of the film is overwhelming. Fanciful, hallucinatory depictions of rape, torture and copulation abound. The evil, multi-legged Spiderwoman from the Dark Realm literally sports a vagina dentata which snaps menacingly at any guy in her vicinity. But that's only a warm-up: at a high point of proceedings, her entire body becomes a giant, deadly vagina.

The animation techniques of Wicked City are dazzling, but a little paradoxical. Much effort is expended to produce settings and actions which are as naturalistic, or photographically hyper-real, as possible. Standard dialogue scenes perfectly simulate the staging and editing conventions of live-action films.

This perverse determination to make animation mimic live-action movies only gives way during the extraordinary scenes of fantasy and magic action. Here the screen explodes into abstract, kinetic patterns which are truly breathtaking.

MORE anime: Jin-Roh

© Adrian Martin September 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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