Revisiting 1987’s Wicked City is an unusually fascinating look at the ambitious visions of late 80’s Japanese cinema. At the drop of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, Japanese entertainment industries felt the ripples of his sci-fi magnum opus well across the Pacific. Upon the nation’s reception, Japan pooled its most talented animators together to push ideas of the Americanized dystopian future, the neo-noir genre and unconventional science fiction in intensely unpredictable and characteristically innovative directions. Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Wicked City represents a culmination of violence in American culture, then-current ideas of the ‘futuristic’ aesthetic, vicious forms of eroticism seen in late-period Nikkatsu Roman Porno and each, individual animator’s primordial imagination of the darkest variety.
Cinephile talk aside, Wicked City is fucking ludicrous and if you are a normal-minded normie with the intent of keeping your regular mind in check, be my guest and kindly drop outta here because this one’s for the exploitation freaks and the profound weirdos of our wacked out Multiverse. Those of the Snatcher crowd, the Fist of the North Star fanatics, tentacle fetishists and neo-noir appreciators invited, Wicked City is a gradually-paced, carefully animated, and slyly-photographed film released before the digital advent of CG.
That being said, it took the hands of many, many patient people to animate the following: spider vagina sex temptresses, body-morphing mud hookers, decapitated tentacle parasite heads, devil-ripping light guns and a 60’s agent-styled, handsome leading man as the cherry on top. While not the deepest movie in the sea, Wicked City stands as a compelling example of anime's near-obsessive pursuit of cinematic realism to portray something that, in the pre-CG era at least, would have been impossible to render in live-action, and even if it could, would have been far too graphic to slip by the censors.
For many, viewers can take films such as Wicked City for what it initially appears. They can be marketed as animated exploitation films, plainly based on the masochistic themes seen in much of Japanese cinema; yet these themes are taken to a much heightened, wildly-immoral extreme. There’s also enough depravity, hardcore violence and sci-fi-cum-occult psychedelia to welcome the casual freaks and smut-minded perv mongers alike. Yet, while late 80’s Japanimations of this hardened nature do indeed aim for these subculturally-specific Hell seekers, there’s a bizarre sense of subtle sophistication that fans of good cinema can pick up on, too.
Most worth noting is the cinematography and composition of many scenes in Wicked City, which are designed to innovate on the atmosphere of 50’s noir. Its less “classically shot tentacle porn” and more “thought-out immorality” while using intricate shadowing techniques and dazzling, contrasting colors to paint a super pulpy nightmare. With “they can show that?” moments and legitimately large production budgets, this infamous kind of animation stood a ground that many international markets would never come close to.
Marking the apogee of Japan's most decadent decade at a time when Japanese anime was primarily intended for domestic consumption, with its siege mentality and threat from invisible enemies Wicked City can be read as an exuberant manifestation of the fears and fantasies of a certain sector of the population at a certain time. Cultural insanity captured in a bottle and then smashed on a screen.