I only had a vague understanding of what I could expect with this film. Anyone in any way familiar with Ryuhei Kitamura and his unofficial muse Tak Sakaguchi should at least have an inkling of what they’re in for. Or, conversely, if you’re familiar with the cult films coming out of Nikkatsu’s production company Sushi Typhoon (responsible for such gems as Alien vs Ninja and Mutant Girls Squad), again, there should have been no surprise. In fact, what ultimately is a surprise is how entertaining something so completely ridiculous and somewhat offensive can actually be.
Where to start. The dialog was atrocious, the action was bloody and cheap, the transitions bordered on jokes (as in, actual jokes) and the characters were horrible stereotypes. Basically on the surface it seemed a vehicle for Sakaguchi to do for ninety-five minutes what he does best – kick butt and ooze attitude, and if it made any real narrative sense I suspect it was merely coincidence.
But on the other hand, it was also a parody, a gaudy and brash caricature of the yakuza personality. I do have to wonder whether any actual yakuza might take a certain level of exception to it, in fact, although supposedly Sakaguchi can deal with them if they decide they want to make an issue out of it. Everything in it, from the opening fight sequence to the finale where the bad guy gets at least half of his just desserts, was so far over the top that it can’t possibly have been meant seriously. Sakaguchi’s yakuza heir Shozo is typically violent and uncompromising and possibly doesn’t have a humorous bone in his body (sure, beating his best friend to within an inch of their lives is funny. If you’re crazy). At the end of a mission in the jungle of who-knows-where, he’s accosted by some smartly dressed secret agents who inform him that his father, the head of the family, has been assassinated.
The motivation is thin, but that’s not the point. Shozo rushes, side-kicks in tow, back to his homeland to start a thorough and systematic take-down of the rival yakuza responsible for his family’s fall from power. As he works his way (pretty much single-handedly) up the food chain we discover he has a) an arranged marriage to a pretty yakuza princess, and b) a blood brother. The arranged marriage, Nayoko, played with lovely aplomb by Mei Kurokawa is shortly thereafter relegated to victim of the main boss’ school girl fetish, and the best friend Tatsu in the attractive and manly form of Jun Murakami, is through his own personal trials and tragedies eventually relegated to evil mind-controlled henchman.
It’s none of it original, or even remotely intelligent. The narrative seems slapped together at best, just a way for Sakaguchi to move from one violent CG blood splattering fight scene to the next. But there’s a kind of shameful enjoyment to be had in it, and there are some genuinely funny moments where the film’s tongue-in-cheek tips over into the realm of animated hilarity (getting someone’s attention with a small yacht as a projectile weapon rather than a status symbol being one of them).
And as if to thumb a nose at my amateur criticisms, there are some truly remarkable scenes as well. At one point, closer to the big boss fight, Sakaguchi moves through two floors of baddies, brawling, beating and breaking, without a single edit. Sure, it’s been done before and by much more accomplished martial arts actors, but you have to give him points for the style in which he does it, both as actor and director. Too, the battle with his ex-best bud is unexpectedly weighty and emotional, given the story is supposed to be about gangster honour and loyalty, complete with the two former friends isolated in harsh, dirty light in an otherwise starkly bare mis en scene, souls stripped bare by brutality and greed. This of course after the scene where Tatsu uses his sister’s naked, reanimated corpse as a weapons delivery system (and I never said this but for that alone, this film is worth the admission price).
As a director, Sakaguchi has a lot to learn if he plans on moving into more respectable genres, but for this, his skills settle perfectly into the stylistic schlock niche he’s carving for himself. Yakuza Weapon is unhinged, unreserved and just slightly unbelievable, as in you won’t be able to believe you’re not walking out in disgust half way through. No one else but Sakaguchi could get away with something like this, but possibly that’s a good thing.