The late ’80s anime film Wicked City is reflective of many things, among them the clear influence of American film noir on Japanese cinema; the early rise of demon-themed anime; and the dark, gritty aesthetic of neo-noir that took hold that decade.
But most noticeably, Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s 1987 film is, in a word, stunning. Between the dark color palate, neon painted scenery and mind-bending visuals, Wicked City blends magical realism, film noir, sci-fi, dark fantasy and even kinky sexual situations together for a singular film that deserves a place in any fantasy or sci-fi fan’s list of favorites.
The film is based on a novel called The Black Guard, the first in The Black Guard series that takes place in the future where humanity and a ‘Black World’ of super demons cohabit the dimension together, while the demons are held at bay by Black Guards. Wicked City‘s hero is a Black Guard agent named Renzaburo Taki who is sent on a mission to protect a mystic, Giuseppe Mayart, and his partner is a beautiful model named Makie, a Black Guard from the Black World. In protecting Mayart (who, interestingly, is a huge sex maniac), the two Black Guards face intervening radical demons who use all manner of psychic and physical powers to kill them. Unbeknownst to both Taki and Makie, there’s a lot more at stake in keeping Mayart safe than they expect.
Wicked City is fantastical and gloriously gritty where the fight scenes are epic, the demons are hiding everyone, and no one is exactly truthful about their identity. But it’s also quite graphic; I’ll state now this film should come with a trigger warning for some light rape and sexual assault scenes that are thankfully few and far between. Besides that, the gorgeous animation and character design done by Japan’s Madhouse studios is like none I’ve ever seen before in an anime, and that plus the surreal demon monsters in the form of femme fatales make for a wickedly good and ethereal time.
Wicked City is available in both English subbed and dubbed versions on Youtube for free!
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers film and previously contributed to the OCW’s long-running fashion column, Trendzilla. Don’t ask her what her favorite movie is unless you want to hear her lengthy defense of Showgirls.