Yakuza Princess

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Yakuza Princess
"The action is nicely choreographed and despite the lengthy running time most of the film is nicely paced, with a number of genre in-jokes to help it hold viewer attention." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

A historic massacre. A legendary sword. A young woman with a secret even she doesn't know. Yakuza Princess may be set in Brazil - São Paulo to be precise – but it has the key pieces of a Japanese action movie in place from the outset. These come courtesy of graphic novelist Danilo Beyruth, whose work also inspired director Vincente Amorim’s 2017 film Motorrad, and the film has something of the feeling of a graphic novel throughout. Dark though its palette and themes may be, it has a distinctly bright and poppy undercurrent throughout, introducing central character Akemi (MASUMI) via a karaoke number.

MASUMI is a professional singer and this is her first film appearance, bar a couple of shorts, but she soon demonstrates her capability extends beyond musical performance. She does a lot of her own stunts (the sequences involved are short, so not too arduous, but still require some seriously athletic moves), and she also handles the dramatic beats well in a story that really puts her character through the wringer. Akemi has recently lost the man who raised her and is trying to deal with her grief when she is set upon by a gang of local thugs. The situation is complicated by the simultaneous arrival of an older Japanese man (Tsuyoshi Ihara) who seems to be trying to kill her, and a white stranger (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who has no idea whose side he’s on because he just woke up that morning with no memory. He can fight, however, so the two team up – but has she made the right choice?

Copy picture

Viewers will already understand the danger Akemi is in thanks to a prequel in which we see the slaughter of her family at her birthday party, 20 years ago, in Osaka. Elements of mystery remain, however, as the story unfolds in the episodic style typical of the genre, with our heroine tracing clues in an attempt to uncover her true identity and understand its import. The film doesn’t take us all the way – we never get to Japan, where the syndicate behind the murder of Akemi’s family is based – but there’s a perfectly adequate amount of plot as it is, given the number of action sequences helping to fill out the runtime.

With a story this dependent on formula, there aren’t a lot of surprises, but in films of this type it’s really the style with which traditional tropes are handled that matters, and here it scores pretty well. As one character says near the end, sometimes a gaijin can surprise you. The action is nicely choreographed and despite the lengthy running time most of the film is nicely paced, with a number of genre in-jokes to help it hold viewer attention. The older Japanese actors bring the proper sense of dignity and tradition that’s needed to keep its sillier moments in check, whilst MASUMI and Myers, between them, provide an entry point for newcomers. Overall, it’s fairly light on gore, but the violence on display still makes an impact.

Amorim makes colourful use of the setting, decorating various scenes with the neon trappings of the Brazilian Japanese diaspora, and the international nature of the film gives it a wider than usual base to appeal to. Screened at Fantasia 2021, it has a natural springboard for distribution in North America, and its accessible style is likely to make it a winner.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2021
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When a Japanese gang boss is killed, his only heiress is sent abroad as a baby. 20 years later she discovers her inheritance and unleashes a war against her pursuers.

Director: Vicente Amorim

Writer: Vicente Amorim and Danilo Beyruth, based on the graphic novel by 'Samurai Shiro' Kimi Lee

Starring: MASUMI, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Kenny Leu, Toshiji Takeshima

Year: 2021

Runtime: 111 minutes

Country: Brazil

Festivals:

Fantasia 2021

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