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Yakuza Weapon (2011)
Directors: Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi

review by Jonathan McCalmont

Back in the late 1950s, filmmakers like Roger Corman realised that there was good money to be made in pandering to youthful audiences. This insight spawned a business model whereby young directors were given small pots of money and instructed to go off and produce something sensational and titillating that might appeal to people from their age group. This business model proved remarkably effective and fuelled not just the craze for drive-in movies but also the kinds of exploitation film that played in grind-house cinemas all over America. Given that these filmmakers frequently operated with very little guidance beyond the need to ramp up the sex and violence whilst remaining under budget, exploitation filmmaking rapidly became a sort of Darwinian swamp in which ambitious directors experimented with new techniques in the hope that their films would out-compete those of their contemporaries. However, as with all evolutionary processes, exploitation film produced far more failures than it did successes meaning that for every John Carpenter and Dario Argento there were dozens of Uwe Bolls.

Fast-forward 30 years and the kids who grew up watching exploitation films became the cigar-chomping producers who handed out pots of money. Mindful of the market for nostalgia, these producers green-lit a series of high profile projects designed to tap into the market for exploitation-style filmmaking. Cue the emergence of films such as Quentin Tarantino's Deathproof (2007), Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror (2007), Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell (2009), Patrick Lussier's Drive Angry (2011), and the entire back catalogue of Neveldine/ Taylor. Though not without its artistic and commercial successes, this grind-house revival suffers for the fact that most of its excesses come not a desperate need to do something radically different in order to stretch a budget and capture an audience but from a deliberate attempt to parody or recapture the insane experiments of the past.

Based on an obscure manga by Ken Ishikawa, Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi's Yakuza Weapon suffers from the same exact problem as American attempts at recapturing the grind-house aesthetic. Filled with sex, violence and all kinds of outrageous behaviour, this ungainly combination of authentic splatterpunk and self-conscious genre parody feels as forced and uncomfortable as a practical joke that has been allowed to continue way beyond the point where everyone stopped laughing.

The film begins with Shozo Iwaki (Sakaguchi) running into gunfire. Exiled son of a senior yakuza, Shozo now evidently makes his way in the world as a mercenary who is simply too cool to kill. Upon learning of his father's death, Shozo and his companion return to Toyko only to discover that the Japanese underworld has been taken over by the very man who killed Shozo's father with the help of foreign investors. Vowing terrible vengeance, Shozo battles his way through the bad guy's minions only to be blown up in the process forcing the Japanese government to step in and fit him with a new bionic body.

Yakuza Weapon starts as a satire of yakuza genre films such as Seijin Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter (1966), and Takeshi Kitano's Sonatine (1993). Full of bellowing melodrama and the rampant hypocrisy of men who bleat about chivalry and honour, whilst murdering each other over brothels and gambling dens, this element of the film is moderately effective, despite the crudeness of its satire and the cowardice of its target-selection. Indeed, much like the tradition of American genre spoofs that began with Airplane (1980), and continues with Meet The Spartans (2008), Yakuza Weapon mocks only the most transparently ridiculous elements of the yakuza genre whilst leaving much of the genre's moral hypocrisy untouched by its powerless satirical jabs.

Clearly sensing that their yakuza parody is running out of steam, the filmmakers stop halfway through the film and attempt to spread their satire beyond the yakuza genre and towards such Japanese cyberpunk films as Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989). However, as with the yakuza parody, the film's attempt to mock cyberpunk is doomed to failure by the filmmakers' insistence upon repeating the same tired jokes over and over again. The first time you see people being cut to pieces by an absurdly bellowing yakuza, with a cannon for an arm, it is difficult not to smile. However, by the 17th time you watch the same bellowing yakuza cut people to pieces with his cannon it is difficult not to reach for the fast-forward button.

Yakuza Weapon's lack of jokes would have been easy to forgive if only its action sequences had been a little bit better. Instead, they are poorly lit, poorly shot, poorly choreographed, far too long and littered with some of the worst special effects that I have ever seen. Even more galling is the fact that, despite being something of a martial arts expert in his own right, actor and director Tak Sanaguchi invariably winds up looking like someone who has never thrown a punch in his life.

At this point, charitably-minded fools may point out that the weakness of the action sequences is part of some deeply ambitious attempt to mock conventional action movies. This idea might have held some water if only for the fact that none of Yakuza Weapon's action sequences are all that funny in and of themselves. It is one thing to spoof action movies with absurdly over-the-top and glaringly incompetent action but quite another to 'spoof' them using fight-scenes that look ever so slightly under-rehearsed and shoddily choreographed.

When taken together, these three failures amount to a film that feels far too long for the limited number of ideas that went into making it. As a genre parody it is under-written and under-informed, and as a splatter-punk action film it is poorly made and downright boring. The problem is not that the jokes and action sequences in Yakuza Weapon are intolerably bad it is just that there is simply not enough here to sustain a 105-minute long film. At 80 minutes, Yakuza Weapon would have been silly and fun, but at 105 minutes it is bloated, self-indulgent and boring.

While the film itself may not be all that interesting, the DVD comes with a breath-taking array of extras designed to shed light on the production process and create some buzz around the recently-launched production company that funded the film. Surprisingly candid for a series of DVD extras, these making-of featurettes provide some interesting insights into a Japanese film industry that is evidently crying out for foreign investment. For this, and this alone, I am awarding this film two stars out of five. Should you be unlucky enough to encounter Yakuza Weapon without these fascinating extras, run away, don't walk.

Yakuza Weapon



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