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‘Wicked City’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 28, 1994

After watching "Wicked City," an English-dubbed, Japanese animation movie, a burning question suggests itself. It requires seating filmmaker Yoshiaki Kawajiri comfortably, turning the lights low, and speaking gently but frankly:

"Kawajiri-san, I couldn't help noticing many instances of, uh, sexual aggression towards women in this story. For instance, at one point, a female character (name of Makie) is bodily invaded by a small, squishy, 'Alien'-like thing that -- once it enters her body -- expands exponentially into a 20-foot beast.

"Makie springs more than a few leaks at the visceral strain. After that, a slimy, acutely suggestive organ slithers into her mouth and

. . . well, let's just say it's not a Disney moment. Can we talk about Mom for a minute? . . ."

Since this question will not be answered, let's go to the movie itself, a science-fictional, post-Chandler, quasi-cyberpunky violence fest set in Tokyo, in which the forces of good are pitted against the Dark World, a malevolent other-dimensional universe full of characters that resemble humans but can metamorphose like there's no tomorrow.

Taki, a Japanese version of a Chandler hero, learns about these folks the hard way when a "woman" invites him to her place. After a steamy love session, she transforms into a spidery humanoid, hurls him against the wall and scuttles out the window. We've all had dates like that, haven't we?

Taki, we find out, is a secret super agent, who poses as an electronics salesman. Not long after his unfortunate date, he is assigned to babysit an unpleasant, lewd and dwarfish individual called Mayart, who is the only one able to renew a treaty between both worlds. He has to be protected from the Dark World radicals who don't want peace. Taki finds himself teamed with Makie, a slinky little number from the Dark World (picture Speed Racer's sexy sister).

Their travails against the terrorists and their growing love are the basic story here. "Wicked City" also abounds in familiar Japanimation fare: the search for a better world, heavyhanded Christ-complex imagery, female violation and machine-age infiltration of the human soul.

Apart from an ingrained hostility toward female body parts, the movie is compelling for its gymnastic "camera angles," its kinetic pace and imaginative (if slightly twisted) images. The best way to watch -- and appreciate it -- is from an extremely campy distance. There's much to chuckle at, chiefly the cheesy English dubbing. After Taki's early mishap with Spider Lady, his boss gives him a rather redundant, straightforward warning: "Be a little sexually cautious from now on."

Though the line is laughable, there's also something ominous in the subtext, as with many other moments in the movie. You have to constantly remind yourself this is only a cartoon.

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