The werewolf exists somewhere between man and wolf. The ninja exists somewhere between the light and the shadows. The philosopher exists somewhere between the lie and the truth. In this liminal intersection, a werewolf that is a ninja that is a philosopher searches for a serial killer, a sadistic murderer who targets art filmmakers.
Like its title, Werewolf Ninja Philosopher (2018) is a hybrid of hybrids, part noir mystery, part absurdist comedy, part cinephile fetish.
The name alone is enough to conjure a whole interesting set of possible stories and worlds, and like a good philosophy text, WWNP invokes a series of questions: How did the werewolf get to Brooklyn? Why is he here? Where is he going? Is he as ancient as the philosophers he studies? Did he walk alongside Aristotle? Did he train under Musashi? Was he once an assassin? Who did he kill? Did he kill? Will he kill again? Why is he trying to stop the killing?
Homo homini lupus. Man is a wolf to man. But what is a wolf to man? And what is a man to wolf? If man be a wolf to man, can man be a wolf to himself?
And why does he walk so damn much?
Whatever the (unimportant) answers are, there is one bit of knowledge we have--writer, director, producer, and cinematographer Sujewa Ekanayake has made an art film that’s just plain damn fun.
WWNP is a movie lover’s movie, and it is clear that Ekanayake himself has fun playing with the various genres form which he pulls, making references to Jarmusch, Descartes, and The Maltese Falcon all at once. But the film is not so specific that it becomes too opaque for the uninitiated viewer. Nor is it so full of so many banal personal tastes that it sours into narcissism (looking at you Tarantino) or a seriousness about itself that forgets why someone might want to watch the film in the first place.
You come to Werewolf Ninja Philosopher because you want to see a werewolf who is a ninja who is a philosopher, something that is strange and interesting and damn fun.
Someone is murdering art filmmakers. The NYPD has come up cold on all their leads, so they call the one person who might solve the case, a creature that has the instinct to hunt, but also the nuanced sensitivity to patiently follow the clues to their logical conclusion. Someone who can exist comfortably between night and day, light and dark, good and evil. Someone who is part animal and part human, part detective and part assassin. Someone whose lifelong duty is the dogged pursuit of truth.Someone who can attack and kill, but mostly keeps his hands in his pockets, real casual like.
Enter Werewolf Ninja Philosopher.
Gathering clues using his impeccable lupine senses, Werewolf Ninja Philosopher hunts, not to kill, but to stop the killing. HIs library is the world, his office, the streets. He exists during the day, but only lives at night, where he deduces and seduces, not out of love for any one person or truth, but because, like an animal or a philosopher, he cannot do but otherwise. It is both his most transcendental terrestrial animal drive and the transcendent celestial daimon that calls him to be who he is.
There are moments during the film where the viewer might declare aloud, “What am I watching?” and “Why”? (Isn’t that precisely what philosophy, at its best, strives to do, namely force us to question the “what” and the “why”?) But Ekanayake is conscious of his camp (the horror genre itself is a prototype for camp), and the fact that this is an art film where the motivating violence is directed at art filmmakers can be read as a playful sublimation of Ekanayake’s own anxieties and self-criticisms about being an art filmmaker. Will he be the next victim?
In this way, the film becomes something that seeks to undermine the conditions of its own possibility. Camus writes, “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Perhaps the only important (and interesting) cinematic question is also the one that forces film to interrogate its own existence and, in so doing, finally destroy itself. I can only imagine Ekanayake’s final film to be the one where he himself is eaten by the werewolf. (Aren’t all artists ultimately consumed by the very art they spend their life creating?)
But for now, the monster is our ally. He saves the film. Not only the lowercase particular “film” that is Werewolf Ninja Philosopher but the uppercase Form “Film” that exists in-and-of-itself…at least for now.
eric anthamatten teaches philosophy and art at The New School and Pratt Institute. He is a performance poet, musician, martial artist, and often howls at the moon whether it is full or empty. @eAnthamatten on Twitter.