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Full Metal Yakuza (1997)
Director: Takashi Miike

review by Steven Hampton
Spoiler alert!
Basically, a cheerfully low-budget combo of Verhoeven's RoboCop (1987), and director Takashi Miike's own Ichi The Killer; this cyborg gangster movie demands its UK (18) rating - with graphic scenes of ultra-violent neo-samurai revenge, and misogynistic pornography. Full Metal Yakuza (aka: Full Metal Gokudo) is an absurdist sci-fi and black comedy horror, that's all done in the best possible taste, of course!
   Ken Hagane (former rock singer Tsuyoshi 'Jik' Ujiki) nearly fails to rise from the yakuza dogsbody status he's in at the beginning of this gangland tragedy. Deeply terrified of aggression, he waits for his mentor Tosa to be released from prison, just so he can return a wallet of family photos. However, the successful mobster that Ken admires is betrayed by his own clan and mercilessly gunned down by hitmen working for a rival gang leader. Despite also being killed in this surprise attack, Ken finds himself resurrected by loony scientist Tomorowo (an archly camp performance by Genpaku Haraga, from the Tetsuo movies). Now a cyborg with his mentor's dragon tattoo grafted onto his back, and Tosa's own heart still beating inside his new bullet-proof body, Ken is reborn in the very image of his yakuza hero, ready to exact revenge on all those responsible for Tosa's death. But first, Ken must learn how his new cyber body works, stay out of the short-circuiting rain, and find a whole new role for himself...
   Hardly a classic in the oeuvre of maverick Japanese auteur Miike, Full Metal Yakuza is nonetheless far more than simply a clever parody of RoboCop, or just another exercise in generic exploitation. It's often rather silly (Ken's mincing dance while trying to shield his body's vulnerable parts from bursts of gunfire looks ridiculous, especially if compared to the seriousness of a viciously brutal gang rape that also features in this film), and there are unsubtle performances by some of the supporting cast, yet the angst-ridden plight of wannabe criminal Ken is compelling and disturbing, while his existential and philosophical search for new meaning in his 'second life' as a mechanical monster is intriguing enough to maintain viewers' interest between the intensely nerve-shattering fight sequences.
   Ken's ill-fated relationship with Tosa's lonely ex-girlfriend Yukari (the beautiful Shoko Nakahara) is curiously touching and never descends into embarrassing banality. Although Miike's approach to explicit sexual violence in the intentionally sickening finale is likely to grossly offend some viewers, the technologically augmented, mantra-dependent Ken does manage to restrain himself from abusing her with his newly acquired gigantic penis. When his batteries rundown and Ken becomes inactive, it's hearing about Yukari's kidnapping by Tosa's gangster enemies that impels him back to life, and obliges him to take on a last suicidal mission against the insanely ruthless yakuza leaders.
   Is unwilling hero Ken really the super-powered crime-fighter that inventor Tomorowo intended? All their main scenes together fairly crackle with homoerotic tension, as Mr T struts around his grungy lab, dressed in black vinyl and a yellow cloak, rambling incoherently to Ken's disembodied head. In a couple of oddly pixel-blurred shots (reportedly, this obscuring of potentially offensive detail was done by Miike, intentionally, perhaps for comic effect), the scientist openly fondles his cyborg creation's huge dick! (This does seem to be a recurring motif in Miike's films, as a similarly oversized cock appears in Dead Or Alive 2.)
   Eccentric rebel Miike rarely disappoints viewers looking for the latest prurient excesses in extreme cinema. Genre purists will doubtless be appalled at what he gets away with here, but that does not lessen the filmmaker's occasionally inspiring achievements. Blending sub-Cronenbergian shocker material with grisly Shogun Assassin bloodletting is no mean feat. With it's mean streak of dark humour, Full Metal Yakuza is successful on its own exploitative terms, whatever negative comparisons with RoboCop it may attract from certain genre critics.
   The region 2 DVD from Eastern Cult Cinema is presented in widescreen, with Dolby digital sound and English subtitles. Disc extras include a filmed interview (30 minutes) with Miike, explaining his pragmatic freelancer approach to developing projects - such as this film - and the networking practices that are required for anyone seeking a career in the modern Japanese film industry. The 15-minute interview with film editor Yasushi Shimamura offers another view of Miike as genuinely creative force, as well as illuminating the troubles and possibilities offered by the straight-to-video production standards. There's also a commentary by Tom Mes (author of Agitator - The Cinema of Takashi Miike), biog notes and filmographies of director and main cast, previews of CG animated films on the ECC label, plus an artwork showreel for their other titles.
Full Metal Yakuza

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