Live-action adaptations of manga properties can be tricky propositions for multiple reasons: if they’re inspired by a fantastic series with outlandish designs, they can look stupid, cheap, or both when rendered literally; if they’re based on stories grounded in reality, they run the risk of trying to cram sixteen volumes’ worth of story into a single movie. Wolf Girl and Black Prince is the latter, except its reality is a decidedly disturbed one: crowded and immoral, this is one strange film.
At her new school, Erika Shinohara (Fumi Nikaido) pretends to have a boyfriend so that she can fit in with her new friends. They demand a photo, so she produces one of a boy that she saw on the street — only to find that he’s fellow student Kyoya Sato (Kento Yamazaki). Erika explains the situation to Kyoya and he agrees to go along with the facade, on the condition that she acts as his dog. As time passes, Erika develops real feelings for Kyoya, while he continues to abuse her.
Japanese high school romance movies are littered with heroines who aren’t willing to be loved, and put up with an excessive amount of instant deal-breakers in pursuit of relations with unworthy boys. Wolf Girl and Black Prince is a classic example of that, and Kyoya doesn’t even have the grace note of a childhood trauma or tragic backstory to justify his personality, nor something to overcome: he’s just an ornery cuss, through and through. This renders Erika a doormat, rewarded by the script for seeing Kyoya as a “nice person” when you look beneath the prickly and legitimately damaging surface; you don’t need to get physical with someone to abuse them.
Ryūichi Hiroki (Kabukicho Love Hotel) directs with a fetishist’s eye, not entirely surprising given his history in “pink” (that is, “blue”) films; one non-sequitur of a sequence contains nothing but extreme close ups of women’s mouths having cake shovelled into them on tiny spoons. The rest of the film is presented as just about any other Japanese teen romance, which would have been fine had its main point of difference been something besides a particularly virulent form of abuse. This is another instance of the original author being a woman, and so too is the screenwriter, Yukiko Manabe, which somehow makes it more acceptable. These harmful relationship models being normalised, even idolised, will never stop being a cause for concern.
Wolf Girl and Black Prince is long and full of characters who don’t deserve to be impressed by Erika. There’s a lot here that would have made a more generic movie — and a more easily enjoyable one — if it had literally anything else to fill the void of its male lead’s personality.
Wolf Girl and Black Prince is screening in Australia as part of the Japanese Film Festival, which tours the country between October 14 and December 4, 2016.
Directed by: Ryūichi Hiroki.
Starring: Fumi Nikaido and Kento Yamazaki,