Sci-fi punks like Tokyo’s Guitar Wolf and Polysics know that for a generation of Japanese youth hopped up on popcorn and Pocky flavor sticks, gore and camp are always just a commercial away. And as the kids know, running for one’s life isn’t as important as what’s playing on the iPod when doing so.
Tokyo’s legendary punkabilly trio Guitar Wolf believe that red-blooded rock and roll can save the planet. In Wild Zero, their camp horror movie released in 2000, wannabe rocker Ace rescues the band from a backstage brawl. Afterward they help him save Tokyo from a pack of voracious undead souls (zombified by who? Puffy Amiyumi?).
Guitar Wolf’s current UFO Romantics could be Ed Wood’s bondage fantasy: black leather and guitar solos greased like the group’s hairdos. “Fire Ball Red” starts it up, with Seiji (a/k/a Guitarwolf)’s instrument signaling like an emergency alarm, while his bandmates Toru (Drumwolf) and Billy (Basswolf) ride the chorus like a stolen vehicle. Then “After School Thunder” ‘s group chorus cracks the concrete. Toru’s bass drum navigates “Grion Midnite” with flashlight accuracy, while Seiji and Billy fall all over one another in the dark. “UFO Romantics” is clearly the troupe’s rallying call: three ringing power chords channeling space invaders, sounding like “Baba O’Riley” with subtitles.
On the other side of town, Polysics just want to outlast pop’s next big trend. They’re willing to fight, though—one Roland MV-8000 at a time. Donning radiation suits to survive apocalyptic rifts, the quartet plays hyper-kinetic new wave owing equally to Devo, XTC, and H.G. Wells. “Making Sense,” from their latest, Neu, sounds like Pete Shelley poring over Boy Scout survival manuals. A throbbing electro-pulse trips under vocalist Hiroyuki Hayashi as keyboards signal his direction. Though synth and vocoder on “Each Life Each End” and “X-Rays” are as synthetic as Teflon, Polysics thrash like a shuttle upon re-entry. They also cover Kiss’s plaster-casting song. If kitsch were a cinema gold standard, names of post-apocalyptic pop stars would line Tokyo’s streets, only to ripple beneath feet of a prosthetic Godzilla.