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YAKUZA WEAPON the movie is kind of like its protagonist,
Shozo Iwaki (Tak Sakaguchi). He’s a mob boss’ son who gets heavy artillery
grafted onto him to blow people away, and the movie pieces together bits and
influences from past movies to blow audiences away. It’s the most over-the-top
entertaining film to come out of Japan’s Sushi Typhoon company since ALIEN VS.
NINJA (with which it shares action director Yuji Shimomura).
Playing tonight at the New York Asian Film Festival and this weekend at Montreal’s Fantasia, YAKUZA WEAPON was co-directed by cult-fave
action star Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi, with whom the actor previously
collaborated on VERSUS and BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL; the duo also teamed on the
latter’s current follow-up/variation DEADBALL. (That movie also premieres at
Fantasia this weekend, and shares a few faces and similar scenes with WEAPON;
both include very funny gags involving phones.) Their attitudes mesh perfectly
in WEAPON, in which Sakaguchi’s Shozo goes to any extreme to get the job done,
and so does Yamaguchi. If all the excess gets, well, excessive at times,
there’s a constant inventiveness that assures there’s always a good laugh or
cheap thrill coming around the bend.
Scripted by the duo based on the manga by Ken Ishikawa
(itself a takeoff on the much more straight-faced yakuza movies by Kinji
Fukasaku et al.), WEAPON sees Shozo called home from the jungle—where, as we’re
shown with great glee in an opening sequence, he’s kicking much ass—after his
dad is killed. Seeking to avenge that death, Shozo runs up against an
assortment of crazy characters, most notably upstart mobster Kurawaki (Shingo
Tsurumi), who’s anxious to usurp the top spot among the city’s gangsters.
There’s some discussion about the yakuza’s code of loyalty and honor, but it’s
mostly just pretext for that code to be broken, as the conflicts escalate to
absurd dimensions. And that’s even before Shozo loses an arm and a leg, and
receives the operation that gives the movie its title—grafting what looks like
a miniature Gatling gun to his arm and a rocket launcher into his leg. Now the
poop is really gonna hit the fan, along with gouts of blood blasted from
The extreme bloodshed in films like this can get sadistic
without the right hand at the helm, and Yamaguchi maintains the right
live-action-cartoony tone to keep the constant mayhem entertaining. (It helps
that it’s largely bad people who get splattered, all courtesy of Sushi
Typhoon’s resident gore master Yoshihiro Nishimura.) The director also shows
here that he knows that when it comes to a movie like this, variety is not just
the spice, it’s the meat and potatoes too. The staging and details are consistently
inventive, reaching their peak during a four-and-a-half-minute shot in which
Shozo roams through a building taking on multiple groups of thugs, the combat
ranging from hand-to-hand kung fu to gunplay to swordfighting, all in one
Sakaguchi finds the right demeanor too in his portrayal of
Shojo, who is driven and brazen but occasionally self-deprecating and basically
not very bright. His deadpan shrugging off of all the bodily damage he endures
is a fun running joke, as when he simply responds, “Ouch” when he’s hit on the
head by a…nope, don’t want to give that one away. Everyone else in the film
plays their roles to the hilt, though not so much that the scenery-chewing
becomes obnoxious. While there’s not as much pulchritude on view as usual in
Sushi Typhoon flicks, fans will appreciate the brief but memorable appearance
by company regular Cay Izumi, who…nope, not gonna give that one away either.
Along with the yakuza genre, references to past Japanese
cyber-body-horror opuses like TETSUO and FULL METAL YAKUZA are sprinkled
throughout YAKUZA WEAPON as well, though it’s all done with a lightheartedness
that’s poles apart from the nihilism of Shinya Tsukamoto and Takashi Miike.
Even with all the goofball imagination on view, the tone does flag every so
often, and the film could have used a bit of trimming to be made even leaner
and meaner. Despite the occasional lapses, though, YAKUZA WEAPON is literally a
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