NYAFF '11: Yakuza Weapon
Bullets screamin' from every orifice
By David Cabrera
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Tak Sakaguchi described Yakuza Weapon with the words “punch and kick”, and the film delivers on this promise early, often, and repeatedly. Co-directors Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi (who starred in and wrote the cult hit Versus) have created an all-punching, all-kicking, and, above all else, an all-screaming showcase.
Yakuza Weapon is based on a manga by Go Nagai's late apprentice, Ken Ishikawa (his credit was given after the opening credits' most ludicrous kill, to some applause from the audience), and the film never forgets it. The only adjective for this film is Dynamic. Productions. Our hero (played by Tak) is straight out of Getter Robo, with a maniacal drive and cartoon-character force of will. The first thing he says in the film, stepping out into a hail of bullets, is “They won't hit if you're not scared of them!”
Every other character in this film merely stands on a slightly lower plateau of madness than our hero: the girlfriend throws a boat at him immediately upon seeing him and then chases him with a pair of Uzis before knocking him down, punching him in the face over and over again, and sobbing “I missed you so much!” Yes, Yakuza Weapon will make you laugh. The violence is comically brutal, and so is the attitude.
The plot, such as it is, follows Sakaguchi from one guy whose ass he needs to beat to the next until he runs into the big boss, who swiftly tears him apart with a machine gun and rocket launcher. It is then and only then (about an hour in) that the premise we were promised—yakuza tough is rebuilt with a machine gun on his right arm and an anti-tank rocket launcher inside his leg—actually takes effect, so be prepared for that.
This isn't to say that you're going to be bored with the film until the weapons come out: in fact, the first act is the stronger one. Sakaguchi and friends work better without the CG gimmick, and the action scenes earn all their creativity points as Sakaguchi runs through them, taking men down in progressively stranger and crueler ways—have you ever seen blood make its way through a telephone by way of a golf club? As the film slowly sheds its sense of humor in the second act and even the fights begin to drag, it sacrifices some of the fun and tries, but fails, to get serious about yakuza honor in the bargain.
The weak point of the entire film is probably the time spent on the draggy subplot of the rival character Tetsu, whose story is dead serious and ultimately irrelevant to the film (in videogame parlance, he's little more than a mid-boss). Of course, Tetsu's tragedy leads up to a bizarre, impressively tasteless, and Lucha Libre-inspired battle close to the end of the film... but I'll leave that scene for your own virgin eyes to see.
On the production values angle, the constantly trembling camera (was it handheld?) remains distracting the entire film, as foreheads drift out of frame in every conversation. Unfortunately, given the effects-heavy premise, the CG effects are about as cheap as it gets: for all the buildup there isn't a lot of visceral satisfaction when Tak starts lighting people up with the machine gun. This movie clearly didn't have a great budget, but Sakaguchi and his action crew go a long way toward making up for a weakness in other visual effects.
This is a fun movie, though: not great, but damned ambitious and spirited. It gets a little caught along the way, but it barrels through screaming to a perfectly nihilistic conclusion. Speaking of people who are so into it, several folks behind the movie were present at the New York Asian Film Fest screening I attended, and Mr. Sakaguchi was awesome enough to pose with me... and yell.
When I heard him yell, I had to give it my best too... putting me a little bit out of the frame.
Don't worry, I got back in there. Sakaguchi and crew are clearly people who love what they're doing: after the film we saw a short called Fist Fighter Mitchan!, an elaborate, charming tribute to Jackie Chan's Wheels on Meals and a film that really made me crave a bowl of yakisoba. I'll absolutely be at their next movie, and hopefully we'll see them again at the fest soon.