It may sound a bit weird, but straight-up, modern action flicks aren't all that common in Japan. Usually Japanese action films are coupled to (and eclipsed by) other genres (like sci-fi, kaiju, martial arts or samurai), leaving only a few exceptions to the rule for fans of extended gunfights and tough, ass-kicking, masculine violence. Wild 7 is such a notable exception, and it makes you wonder why exactly Japan isn't producing more of these.
As much as I love Japanese entertainment, I never heard of Wild 7 before. Which is pretty weird considering there's a whole line of anime and TV serie adaptations of the original manga. Born in the late '60s, Wild 7 takes a spin on the post-war, political situation of Japan and brings together 7 convicted criminals to form an alliance of mercenaries operating outside of the law. This team is contacted whenever regular forces can't handle their jobs, but some higher-ups consider this team a serious threat and want to dismantle the project.
While the Wild 7 live action adaptation is a pretty simple (but good) action flick, there are a surprisingly high amount of Oshii references to be found in this film. The team for example is not quite unlike Kokaku Kidotai's Section 9, the zeppelin incident is taken right out of Patlabor 2 and the post-ending bit resembles one of the other terrorist attacks in Patlabor 2. Then there is the rampant political corruption, one of Oshii's beloved themes (think Jin-Ro). And while all of these things could somehow be traced back to the original setup of Wild 7, you simply cannot look past Kenji Kawai's soundtrack where one track in particular sounds an awful lot like an Avalon left-over. Hell, even the fish close-ups seem to refer to Oshii. Clearly the original Wild 7 material pre-dates any of Oshii's stuff I mentioned above, but I'm pretty confident that there's some kind of homage going on here.
Wild 7's story is pretty straight-forward. The group finds itself in an existential crisis, caught between the wrath of their superiors and the will to do something worthwhile, trying to redeem their past mistakes. They cut themselves loose from their command and try to blast their way to the one person controlling all the political puppets. There are some extra dramatical bits and pieces, but those are mostly introduced to fill the space between the action scenes.
Hasumi applies a pretty nice visual style, appropriate for this kind of film. Gunfights can become tedious very fast when not shot well, Hasami avoids this trap by inserting some very stylish bullet ballets. The use of lighting in particular makes for some very spectacular scenes. The film as a whole looks modern and slick, nicely edited and timed well, exactly the way a good action flick should look. And there's little to no shaky-cam action, which should comfort a lot of people.
The soundtrack is clearly the work of Kenji Kawai. The choice in instruments and motives is very reminiscent of the work Kawai usually prepares for Oshii's films. It lends Wild 7 a rather unique and differentiating atmosphere, especially for a film like this. It's definitely not Kawai's strongest work and the film itself doesn't leave the soundtrack with much opportunities to truly shine, but even then it's a pretty strong and worthwhile selection of atmospheric tracks that helps to set the film apart.
The acting is without a doubt the weakest point of the film. It's not overly bad, but the team of 7 has too many Japanese pretty boy members to be a convincing bad-ass killing squad. Notable exceptions are Takashi Ukaji (as the yakuza boss) and Minoru Matsumoto, who you might recognize as one of the crazy yakuzas from Versus. Not the most talented of actors, but at least he has plenty of charisma to compensate.
Wild 7 reminded me a little of Yamakazi's Returner, which has a similar vibe running through it. Don't expect too much substantial material or serious plot points, everything is tailored so the action can take center stage. It's not as action-packed as recent crowd-pleasure The Raid, then again Wild 7 tries to deliver a more stylized/poser kind of action, alternated with ear-deafening gun clatter.
If you don't mind a mindless (stylized) action flick once in a while you could do much worse, the action scenes are pretty kick-ass and the styling is slick and sexy. Fans of Oshii can warm themselves on a string of interesting homages and references while enjoying some mindless thrills in the meantime. Wild 7 isn't truly exceptional, but it's a damn cool and entertaining piece of escapism, the kind I would like to see more of.
Wild 7 is now available on Region 2 DVD and Region A Blu-Ray.
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