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Sushi Typhoon – Part 9: Yakuza Weapon

January 18, 2012

Yakuza mayhem misses the genre’s appeal

Gokudo heiki (Japan, 2011)

“Real yakuza fears no nuke”

Taku kills again! It’s been an 11 year world tour for mini-budget Japanese action cinema. Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus (2000) rocked the world more than a decade ago, but as some have noted, Kitamura-san hasn’t been able to come up with anything comparable since. The rest of the gang – screenwriter Yudai Yamaguchi, action choreographer Yuji Shimomura, and street fighter Tak(u) Sakaguchi – however, are here again! Was the wrong man credited for the Versus success?

Good theory, perhaps true even, but it doesn’t make Yakuza Weapon a good film. Not even thought it just may be the most fucked up production in the Sushi-catalogue. Co-directors Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi set to adapt Ken Ishikawa’s 1996 manga into a Versus beater. Not forgetting the manga’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity yakuza parodies, Taku mastered Hiroshima accent and went full-on Bunta Sugawara! Sadly, style was forgotten.

Shozo Iwaki (Sakaguchi) wants to be the world’s toughest yakuza. The task is easy: he already is the world’s toughest yakuza. But there’s room for improvement. Returning from the Vietnam jungles (don’t ask) he discovers his asshole father (Akaji Maro) has been murdered, and the family’s honor stained. Now Iwaki is also the world’s most pissed off yakuza.

Add to the insult, a pervert in a big building shoots him with a bazooka. Broken but alive, Iwaki is left in the hands of Japan’s best, and returned to action with a machine gun arm and rocket launcher leg. Groovy!

Yakuza Weapon is a festival of Sakaguchi – a charming badass not best known for his modesty. Iwaki kills and smokes, usually at the same time. He disguises himself in battle, not to take the enemy by surprise, but to look cooler. Most of the dialogue consists of random insults, and all of them at yelled. Shozo Iwaki is Tak Sakaguchi!

– “I’m the best swordsman in Japan. And in the world.” – Tak Sakaguchi
– “He’s an idiot.” – Yudai Yamaguchi

The catch couldn’t be more obvious – Tak battles his way through an action comedy where almost every scene is taken over-the-top with dedication. Heads come off, buildings explode, and occasionally something so obscure (literally) falls from the sky that one can’t help but to warm up to it. But the joke is stretched too long, and the monotonic revenge / brotherhood drama becomes a drag. The worst misstep however, is the extensive use of (very poor) CGI.

Like the Yamaguchi helmed Deadball, Yakuza Weapon is effectively pushing the J-splatter genre ever deeper into the dark ditch of CGI. It’s hard to imagine true horror or cult film fan warming up to these digital gore fests. There is no concrete creativity in such. Casual viewers may not care, but then again, casual viewers also don’t see the difference between George Lucas green-screen action and mind blowing 1980’s Jackie Chan stunts. Splatter is no different art.

Some light is brought into the darkness by Sakaguchi and Yuji Shimomura’s action choreography. Taku is at his best in down and dirty street fighting mode – the man is no artist, but can kick ass and rip off some heads while at it. The highlight is a 4½ minute single take action scene that was completed with one hour rehearsal – and broken neck, as Taku took damage already during the first minute, but refused to give in! Tom Yum Goong’s similar scene took several months!

Another contender for a standout is a Sushi-favorite Cay Izumi’s brief visit as “naked weapon” – a scene made to be a cult favorite, but sadly drowned in CGI. The same problem plagues all of Taku’s gatling gun and rocket launcher action, making several action bits less than exiting. Most underwhelming is the encounter with deadly nurses, again watered down with digital gore.

Yakuza Weapon once again raises the question: where goes the line between creative insanity, and overly self-aware “manufactured cult cinema” that effectively misses the true coolness. The line is not easy to draw. Yoshihiro Nishimura, for example, intentionally pushes the audience’s limit, but the man is genuinely nuts and directs films with a great heart.

Yakuza Weapon, on the other hand, over-does it concept to comical lengths just to prove people it doesn’t take itself seriously. But that is exactly the problem. Such splatterific genre films, even when played straight, automatically posses certain darkly humoristic undertone. Yakuza Weapon is essentially explaining a joke to an audience that otherwise wouldn’t get it – and will probably find success among such viewers that would normally feel insulted by “terrible sadistic splatter films”.

In all fairness, though, Yakuza Weapon is not an entirely poor film. Sakaguchi’s nutty yakuza satire / self irony is fun to a certain point, and his hand-to-hand fights rarely cease to entertain. Sakaguchi and Yamaguchi are both nice guys, but with all the CGI and comic over-statement Yakuza Weapon is a misfire. In Sushi Typhoon’s entertaining seven film catalogue it’s the weakest contender.

It is my sincere wish Sushi Typhoon will be back later in 2012 with a vengeance – and without CGI. Unleash the true creativity these Japanese nuclear reactors (also known as “filmmakers”) posses and bring back the days of Tokyo Gore Police and The Machine Girl!

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7 comments

  1. Good to know, respectiveley, thanks for the warning. Kinda been looking forward to this flick since the first trailer emerged from the depths of the www (for the record: I love TOKYO GORE POLICE), stuff looked like genuinely nutty fun. I agree with everything you said about splatter-trash not exactly being in need of slapstick-humor, since the concept in itself is already funny enough. I’m gonna skip this one.


  2. By the way, same blog, different topic: Are you going to do some sort of Best-Of-List for the movies you’ve been watching in 2011? And maybe a Shit-List to boot? Would love to see something like that …


  3. Hi Alex, good to see you here!

    Yakuza Weapon is more in the RoboGeisha alley than Tokyo Gore Police style. Imagine RoboGeisha with Tak Sakaguchi and you’re very close.

    But speaking of action splatter, have you checked out Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle yet? I know you didn’t enjoy the first one, but Bloody Battle is seriously the best Japanese action film in… I don’t know, 30 years? Mind-blowing action choreography, Nishimura Eizo gore effects, and hard boiled cyber punk / post apocalypse direction. CGI only used in a few background shots.

    As for best of and worst of lists, I could make one… for 2008! I feel I haven’t seen more than a fraction of the interesting 2011 films yet. In regards to Japanese cinema alone, I’m still waiting to catch Himizu, Cho akunin, No Reply, Tokyo Drifter, River, Birthright, Monster’s Club, Salvage Mice, Monster Killer, My Back Pages, Zombie Ass, Let’s-Make-the-Teacher-Have-a-Miscarriage Club, About the Pink Sky, Never Ending Blue, Guilty of Romance (returned my UK BD for being the cut version), The Last Days of the World and many others…

    Best of 2011 so far…

    Top 5
    1. Drive
    2. Kill List
    3. Underwater Love
    4. Karate Robo Zaborgar
    5. Hobo with a Shotgun

    None of the 2011 films I saw totally sucked, but disappointments include Yakuza Weapon, Deadball, Kunoichi, and maybe Keibetsu (not for being bad, but for not living up to expectations). As for Rina Takeda, K.G. however lived up to expectations and was quite a solid film indeed. It could’ve been number 6 on my list had I listed more films.


  4. Good List (so far). KILL LIST would’ve made it into a Top-20 List, otherwise perhaps the most fucked-up movie I’ve seen in 2011. Intense stuff. KARATE ROBO-ZABORGAR didn’t made my list, yet I liked it mostly because it was the last film we watched together, somehow this made it special (and the fact that I was quite drunk by the end, hehe). And of course there’s still a couple of movies left that I wanted to see, but never came to, yet I had to come up with something for the magazine I’m writing for – so my Top-10 is also incomplete.

    Here’s some movies I really, really, wanted to see, but somehow didn’t make it. But I will try to catch up on them as soon as possible:

    – REVENGE: A LOVE STORY (perhaps my most wanted at the moment)
    – X (Jon Hewitt) – second most wanted
    – GUILTY OF ROMANCE
    – UNDERWATER LOVE
    – KG: KARATE GIRL
    – THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FULL SEQUENCE
    – THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Almodovar)
    – MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier)
    – A DANGEROUS METHOD (Cronenberg)
    – CAT RUN (John Stockwell)
    – ROLLER GIRL (Drew Barrymore/Ellen Page)
    – LITTLE DEATHS (some sort of Omnibus flick about the the Dark Side of Sex, so I heard)

    Yeah, I know, compared to you, my taste in movies has become quite mainstream recently. Perhaps NIGHT VISIONS 2012 will cure me. 😀


  5. Dang, totally forgot about HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN! Need to see that as well. And DRIVE doesn’t count for me as 2011, since it’s being released in German cinemas by next week. I already have this gut-feeling it’s going to be among the best flicks of 2012 …


  6. That Sunday was quite something indeed… I had taken the afternoon off from movies, and the course of events went something like this:

    Music, bratwurst, beer –> more beer –> a little bit more beer –> maybe one more drink –> sunstroke –> headache and feeling “strange” –> back to the festival –> watch a movie an not understand a damn thing about it –> Alex + Matthias + beer –> more beer –> Iguchi

    It was a great day!

    HC2 I also really want to see. And Revenge is playing in Finnish theaters right now. Caught it at NV in the fall. Night Visions brought it to standard distribution now, although with English subtitles only. Weekend midnight screenings only.

    btw, just today I found out K.G. is being released by Media Blasters in April. You can find my film and R2J reviews somewhere in this blog…


  7. Oh, and about Drive… I went to see it in Cinema four times (yes, 4). Well, the first one was a festival screening, then three times when it opened in theaters. It’s that good!



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