Review for Yakuza Weapon
I've found a lot to appreciate about low budget Japanese cinema in recent years. There's a willingness to take chances, as well as offer cheap and cheerful action thrills, that you don't see any more in mainstream or even independent Hollywood. Hollywood was once king of the b-movie, where the Roger Corman inspired exploitation flicks filled many a cinema with fans looking for action, sex and violence, and a complete disdain for authority and establishment. That Hollywood is now confined to the Sy-Fy Channel and straight to DVD, but I can still enjoy that guerrilla sensibility in the output from Japan, where it seems that independent cinema is thriving. What's more, a lot of it is finding more success in the Western market than it does domestically. You can look to Third Window Films for the more thoughtful, quirky, and art house side of Japanese film making, but companies like MVM, Eureka, and Revolver grab hold of the cheap and cheerful, schlocky output, and I have to admit that titles like Alien vs. Ninja, Robogeisha, and Hard Revenge Milly are often more entertaining than the identikit Hollywood movies that fill the multiplexes each summer. Cheap to make, with low production values, they also have no need to aim for a family friendly multiplex-filling 12A rating, and neither do they have to cater to studio execs when it comes to compromising on their content. But I never would have thought that they would benefit from the HD treatment. Then the Yakuza Weapon Blu-ray turned up.
Yakuza Weapon adapts the manga from Ken Ishikawa to the big screen, made by the people who gave the world Versus, Meatball Machine, and Deadball (out on the same day from Bounty Films).
Shozo Ikawi is heir to the Ikawi Yakuza family, but following a confrontation with his father, he's been working as a mercenary in the jungles of South America, although fighting the war in true Yakuza style, he's the one combatant who can actually stare down bullets. He's convinced to return to Japan though, when a government agent informs him of what has happened to his father. Kenzo Ikawi was the victim of a cowardly assassination, and the newest crime boss in Japan is none other than the former Ikawi lieutenant, Kurawaki. The government understand that Kurawaki is working with a foreign crime syndicate, and that is beyond the pale. Japanese crime should be Japanese, so they want Shozo to go back and put an end to Kurawaki. The confrontation is intense, levelling an office building in the process and leaving Shozo missing an arm and a leg. But that's just round one.
For the government can rebuild Shozo, they have the technology, and now he's sporting a M61 Vulcan cannon where his arm used to be, and a rocket launcher in his leg. But Kurawaki has gotten a few upgrades as well, and with the aid of drugs he's recruiting a powerful army of the homeless. What's more, his secret weapon is Shozo's own blood brother Tetsu, fallen into despair following the murder of his sister, and his rivalry with Shozo manipulated to serve Kurawaki. If that isn't enough, Shozo's Yakuza fiancé wants to know when he's finally going to settle down and marry her!
It's a low budget movie with average production values, cobbled together CGI, and shot completely digitally. It looks stupendous on Blu-ray, with the 1.78:1 widescreen transfer getting the 1080p treatment. The image is clear and sharp throughout, detail levels are excellent, the action moves fluidly and the special effects, cheap though they are, are fairly seamless and come across well. Blood splatter is as excessive as you would expect from this sort of film, while the practical make up and effects are of higher quality. The low budget does tell in some of the action sequences, which would no doubt have been better given a few months to choreograph, stunt arrange, and polish in post production, but it's the darker scenes which suffer most, as the image tends to lack definition here, afflicted with lower contrast levels.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR, and aren't necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You get a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese audio track, with optional English subtitles. It's not an overly sound designed movie, but the surround does get a suitable work out during the action sequences, and the film's music score definitely punches above its low budget weight, driving the pace of the film well. The one flaw is in the subtitles, which have the odd typo which ought to have been corrected. I also feel that the subtitle translation is a little looser than I'm used to, with the film's dialogue very much catering for a Western vernacular, rather than being a close translation. Then again, we in the West do expect our gangsters to be as profane as sailors.
Yakuza Weapon really impresses in the quantity of its extra features, which due to constraints of time I could really only verify their existence on this disc. I certainly will revisit them when I have more time to do so.
The static menu set against the film's end theme has the benefit of loading as fast as a DVD.
On the disc, you'll find 6½ minutes of deleted and extended scenes.
The Making of Yakuza Weapon lasts 46 minutes, and from what I saw, it looks to be the usual interviews with cast and crew, behind the scenes footage and b-roll footage as well.
I did see Takuza's Weapon - Short Film in its entirety. It's a companion piece to the main feature, which sees one of Shozo's henchmen getting rather envious of his boss's upgrades. Fortunately his partner has just qualified as a cybernetic upgrade installation engineer. This lasts 15½ minutes.
Toki's Wedding Part One lasts 16½ minutes, and sees director and star Tak Sakaguchi take a break from filming to visit his sister on the eve of her wedding.
The Tower of Kurawaki that was ignominiously demolished in the movie initially had 36 levels, and 36 guards blocking Shozo's path. It was a blink and miss them affair, but here you get to see all the various warriors that Kurawaki had hired strut their stuff. This lasts 5 minutes.
Opening Day Stage Greeting lasts 6 minutes, and the cast and crew introduce the film to the audience for its premiere.
Dream Jumbo Talkshow lasts 23 minutes, and is the first featurette that I will revisit as soon as time allows. In it directors Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi join the legendary Go Nagai to talk about the film in front of an audience. The late Ken Ishikawa whose manga was adapted to this film was the protégé of Go Nagai before his untimely death.
The film's theatrical trailer is here, running to 2½ minutes.
Finally, you have the option to watch the film with an isolated music score. This is also presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround.
All of the extra features (except the isolated score), are presented in 1080i resolution, that's even for those featurettes with lower source resolution such as the Toki's Wedding Part 1 featurette.
That is as nutty a movie experience as any I've had for a long time. Yakuza Weapon is not at all to be taken seriously. It's over the top, comic book action, with ridiculous characters, and absurd situations. You know where the heart of this movie is when it introduces its main character. It's the middle of a fire-fight in a nameless South American jungle, mercenaries dying left, right and centre, and the situation looking bleak. Into this hail of bullets strides Shozo, in full Yakuza regalia, proclaims that bullets don't hit anyone who isn't afraid of them, that he can defeat grenades with a glare. He steps on a landmine deliberately, so it can launch him at the bad guy's base. This is tongue in cheek, over the top action with insane amounts of attitude, and I was laughing my head off from beginning to end.
Films like Yakuza Weapon work by never relenting on that attitude, but going up another level with each scene, by dropping the viewer's jaw down another notch with what audacious visual oddity they can supply, and Yakuza Weapon is brilliant at this. It's not safe; it's not for the middle of the road audience. It's got blood, gore, and splatter by the bucket loads, it's got sex and violence, it's relentlessly profane, and in another era it would have been labelled a video nasty. The fact that it's hilarious, ridiculous, and absurd neuters its potential nastiness though. So it is that you can forgive poor Tetsu's fate. Shozo's blood brother and Yakuza rival gets out of prison in time to find his family massacred, and the man responsible in the process of raping his sister, before blowing her brains out in front of him. You'd think that would be extreme, but Yakuza Weapon keeps going one step further. The next time we see Tetsu, he's burned out, dragging a coffin with his sister's corpse behind him, Django style. He's picked up by the villains, who turn him into a drug fuelled warrior, and convert his sister's naked corpse into a multipurpose weapon. I won't tell you where the rocket launcher is. You have to see it to believe it.
In typical gangster style, Shozo blusters, punches, batters, destroys, and brazens his way through all his foes on his way to seeking revenge for his father. And then he gets upgraded with cybernetic weapons to start all over again. Even while he's lying in the hospital bed, recovering from the surgery, he's attacked by a gang of killer nurses. He learns here what the power of the cannon in his arm is, when shooting at one of his assailants, she's vaporised, leaving nothing but her bra floating gently to Earth. It's just the sort of visual kinetic excess that leaves a grin plastered to the face. It's not just the action though, as the visual comedy is always inventive, and the characters are deliciously drawn. Kurawaki is a hilariously depraved villain with a cybernetic penis implant and a pigtail and glasses fetish. His henchman is an overgrown giggling schoolboy with a bowl cut and an affinity for computers. Shozo's henchmen take a leaf from Jay and Silent Bob for their characters, while Shozo's fiancé initiates their loving reunion by throwing a boat at his head, and then trying to shoot him.
Yakuza Weapon is pure, profane and puerile fun. I absolutely loved it. This is what people actually want Chuck Norris movies to be like. At least that's what I want. It's comic book, cartoon violence on an epic scale, with each subsequent scene redefining the extremes of visual insanity. Never has the description, 'you have to see it to believe it' been more appropriate.