Yakuza Weapon

Yakuza Weapon


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"Don't you ever die?"

With these words, Nayoko (Kurokawa Mei) is only articulating what viewers have long been wondering about Iwaki Shozo (played by Sakaguchi 'Tak' Taku, who also co-directs and co-writes). After all, we have already seen Shozo survive bullet hails ("You only get hit when you're afraid of getting hit"), a landmine ("Big deal"), a blow to the head from a large, airborne metal boat ("Ouch!"), the loss of his right arm ("It doesn't hurt a bit"), and a direct hit from a rocket launcher – and soon he will be putting to the test his own assertion that "no nuclear scares a true yakuza!". Like the character famously portrayed by Sakaguchi in Kitamura Ryuhei's Versus, Shozo seemingly cannot be stopped by anyone or anything.

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Recently returned from a four-year exile abroad to avenge the murder of his mob boss father (Maro Akaji), 'mad dog' Shozo is as belligerently relentless as he is stupendously moronic, making him the perfect comic vehicle for this hyperbolic manga adaptation. With his über-aggressive daddy now dead ("he took 88 bullets in his body but he still cornered his assailant"), Shozo can now justly lay claim to being "the toughest yakuza in the world", with the possible exception of his best friend - and arch rival - Tetsu (Murakami Jun).

Yet Shozo's greatest enemy will turn out to be modernity itself, as represented by the impotent new kingpin Kurawaki (Tsurumi Shingo), whose business model leaves little room for the yakuza's traditional code of chivalry and loyalty. Fortunately, though, Shozo is about to be brought right up to date with some high-tech surgical enhancements that will transform him into a human weapon, enabling him to continue embodying his ancient, patriarchal values in an astonishingly high-powered new form.

"The best of Japan is invested in him," asserts one of Shozo's would-be government handlers – and fans of Fukasaku Kinji, Miike Takashi and Tsukamoto Shinya will most likely agree. After all, the story of a young ex-military street thug named Shozo who is desperate to preserve the principle of 'jingi' (or honour) in a changing Japanese landscape is lifted straight from Fukasaku's yakuza classic Battles Without Honor And Humanity (1973); the criminal cyborg and earth-shattering climax recall Miike's Full Metal Yakuza (1997) and the Dead Or Alive trilogy respectively; while the man-machine mythology (as well as the name of Shozo's most dangerous opponent) evokes Tsukamoto's Tetsuo (1989). Which is to say that this Frankenstein's monster of a movie has been stitched together from a dizzying variety of sources – which also incidentally include such unlikely non-Japanese titles as First Blood, Alien, and Iron Man.

While it would be difficult to maintain that Yakuza Weapon ever adds up to more than the sum of these parts, it would be equally churlish to discredit the film for its cheap CGI, its cartoonish characters or the anything-goes details of the plotting (including a a woman's crotch adapted into a missile launcher, and a man's penis used as a nuclear detonator), all of which are essential to its luridly over-the-top texture and free-wheeling, anarchic humour.

Opening without explanation in a Vietnam of the cinematic imagination, and ending in veritable Armageddon, this is a film that constantly ignores Kurawaki's injunction to "face reality" (a principle that Kurawaki himself hardly upholds), instead preferring devil-may-care irrationality – and if its ambition far outpaces its budget, that only makes it resemble its hero, who is funny precisely for being dumb, hyperviolent, and far too big for his boots.

So while this latest offering from Nikkatsu's 'extreme gore' label Sushi Typhoon (Alien Vs Ninja, Cold Fish) may repeatedly seem to be punching above its own weight, it is also taking satirical shots at cinema's different tropes of masculine excess. Shozo's irrepressible impulse to pursue supremacy at absolutely any cost might be what marks him out as the film's hero – but it is also what makes him utterly ridiculous, in a joke that never dies.

Reviewed on: 07 May 2011
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Working as a mercenary in South America, Shozo Iwaki cis informed of the death of his gang boss dad... and discovers his No. 1 henchman is involved in a double-cross.
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Director: Tak Sakaguchi, Yûdai Yamaguchi

Writer: Sakaguchi Taku, Yamaguchi Yudai, based on the manga by Ishikawa Ken

Starring: Sakaguchi Taku, Tsurumi Shingo, Kurokawa Mei, Maro Akaji, Yamanaka Arata, Izumi Cay, Pe Jyonmyon, Nishina Takashi, Sai Akihiko, Murakami Jun

Year: 2011

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Japan


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