The film Wolf Guy (Urufu gai: Moero Ã´kami-otoko) (1975) is pretty hard to classify. The lone survivor of a werewolf clan investigates murders reportedly committed by an invisible, phantom tiger. As he delves deeper into the mystery, he finds himself in the clutches of a shadowy organization that has other plans for him. The film is evocative of its era, feeling like a mid-1970s cop/detective drama. Starring martial arts legend Shin’ichi Chiba (better known as Sonny Chiba), it also features numerous energetic and entertaining fight sequences. Then, there are the supernatural elements, from the aforementioned phantom tiger to the main character’s moonlight-induced superpowers. The one odd thing is, for a film about a werewolf, it does not contain any actual werewolf action.
In Wolf Guy, Akira Inugami (Sonny Chiba) is the sole survivor of an ancient clan of inugami – Japanese werewolves. One evening, while driving through the city, he witnesses a man running in fear. The main claims that he is being chased by a tiger. As Akira watches, the stranger is apparently torn to pieces by an unseen force, presumably the phantom tiger. The victim is a former member of a band called Mobs. It seems that nearly all of the other members of this band have suffered similar fates as well. The trail leads Akira to a stripper/nightclub singer who was gang raped by the band. It seems she may be responsible, on a subconscious level, for sending the phantom tiger to exact revenge upon her attackers. Before they know what is happening, Akira and the young woman are kidnapped by a shadowy organization that may or may not be associated with the government. They want to use the young woman’s psychic powers so they can assassinate targets via the invisible, phantom tiger. Akira is also of interest to them. They want to use his blood to create a race of super-soldiers. Little do the kidnappers know that it will soon be the twelfth day of the lunar cycle, and Akira’s wolf-like superpowers will be at their peak. Can Akira use his powers to escape the clutches of the kidnappers?
Wolf Guy feels very much like a mid-1970s cop/detective film. It is a little unclear if the main character is actually a detective or a newspaper man, but he fits the archetype of the hard-boiled investigator nonetheless. The character of Akira Inugami is a serious man. He is tough and streetwise. He has his informants and assistants. Most importantly, he has his fists. The mid-1970s vibe is furthered by the funk-filled soundtrack. If one were to leave out the martial arts and supernatural elements, Wolf Guy would fit in well with other cop/detective films of its era.
The biggest draw of Wolf Guy, aside from the allure of its unusual premise, is the fact that it stars martial arts legend, Sonny Chiba. At the age of 78, Chiba is still acting in films, with over 190 credits to his name. In Wolf Guy, Chiba is at the height of his powers and popularity. His Akira is one tough lycanthrope. Akira is not afraid to get into fights with multiple assailants. Fans of Sonny Chiba will be particularly pleased with the number and variety of fights in which he participates.
Wolf Guy combines its 1970s cop/detective elements with its Sonny Chiba centered martial arts aspects and places them in a world where the supernatural occurs. The phantom tiger attacks are violent and bloody. One standout sequence involves the shadowy organization testing the psychic woman’s powers by presenting her with one of the objects of her hatred strapped to a table. Here captors goad her into unleashing the invisible tiger upon the man. It is a tense and effective scene. The one area where Wolf Guy falls short, though, is the fact that it is essentially a werewolf film without a werewolf. Akara may be the Wolf Guy of the title, but he never transforms into anything at all, let alone a lycanthrope. There is much made about the fact that his powers will be at their height during the twelfth day of the lunar cycle, but when the time comes, there is no change in Akira’s appearance. He is supposedly stronger and resistant to injury to the point of invulnerability, but he gains not so much as a single hair on his face. At one point, Akira does run across someone who, via transfusions of Akira’s blood, has been transformed into the same kind of creature as himself. At least this “new inugami” has wilder hair and a mad look in his eyes, but he is still a far cry from a werewolf. Most fans will be disappointed that there is not even the hint of a werewolf in this werewolf picture.
Wolf Guy is an interesting mash-up of genres, though it is not necessarily a successful one. On one hand, it feels like the other hard-boiled investigator films of its era. One the other hand, it is a classic 1970s martial arts film starring the legendary Sonny Chiba. The supernatural elements, while certainly present, get short shrift. The film’s biggest liability, though, is the fact that it is a werewolf film called Wolf Guy, but at no point do any of the characters turn into werewolves. Fans of Sonny Chiba and funky 1970s films may enjoy Wolf Guy for those elements, but the rest of the viewers may want to look elsewhere for their lycanthropy needs.
Wolf Guy (Urufu gai: Moero Ã´kami-otoko) (1975) (2.8 / 5)