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‘Wicked City’ (NR)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 28, 1994

With its languid pace and gradual exposition, Yoshiaki Kawajiri's "Wicked City" aims to be the "Blade Runner" of Japanese animation. Considering the frenetic pace and sci-fi absolutism of so much of that fare, this is a relief, though Kawajiri seems as paranoidally straitjacketed as his colleagues when it comes to sex. And sex figures in this animated feature on several levels.

In a near future, an uneasy peace exists between Earth and the Black World, a parallel dimension populated by creatures that can shape-shift from humanoids to widow-making spiders at the drop of one's pants. On the eve of a new nonaggression pact, special agent Taki and Black Worlder Makie are assigned to protect Mayart, a horny little Yodalike character who seems to hold the key to the future. Taki and Makie are both members of the Black Guard, glorified dimensional border guards who try to foil rebels and troublemakers from both sides.

Troubles begin in the opening frames when Taki picks up a woman in a Tokyo bar, returns to her apartment for some graphic sex and subsequently escapes her transformed clutches (the creature's privates take on a Venus-flytrap look). He has much better luck with Makie, though her luck is mostly bad. At one point she suffers indignities only possible in adult animation (this is clearly not a film for kids). On the other hand, there's a tender ballad moment between Taki and Makie that's right out of Disney. Go figure.

The story itself is sci-fi noir, with a Brave New World subtext that's familiar in Japanimation, but thankfully absent the usual apocalypse angle. What sets "Wicked City" apart is its deliberate pace, a sense of linear storytelling as opposed to an excuse for sex and war. Outside of the Black Worlder transformations, the graphics tend toward realism. At 90 minutes, Kawajiri's film proves stylish and erotic, exciting in its limited confrontations and provocative in its ambition.

"Wicked City" is not rated but contains graphic animated sex and violence and is for mature audiences only.

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