[For the next two weeks, Alec will be covering select films from the New York Asian Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “NYAFF11.” Keep watching throughout the weeks as we bring you more reviews!]
Yakuza Weapon is, like Karate-Robo Zaborgar, a film that comes out of Japan’s recent obsession with making over-the-top grindhouse-like action flicks. In many ways, Yakuza Weapon is much more subdued simply by the nature of it not starring a transforming robot, but there are still things in the film that make Yakuza Weapon even more crazy. This is probably a good sign, because I tend to like crazy things… but Last Days of the World was crazy and I wasn’t such a fan. Is Yakuza Weapon a good kind of crazy, or is it a complete waste of time? Find out below!
Yakuza Weapon stars Japanese heart-throb Tak Sakaguchi as Shozo, the son of a deceased Yakuza boss, who has come to avenge the betrayal and death of his father. The film opens up with the destruction of some kind of (nazi?) compound by Shozo, where he attaches a severed head to an arrow and shoots it at someone, stands in front of a barrage of gunfire and removes unscathed, and launches forward thanks to a landmine, among other things. Yeah, the movie is pretty insane. In a fight a bit later in the film, Shozo loses an arm and a leg, and is taken in by some government agents to become the “Yakuza Weapon,” which means he has a new arm that transforms into a mini-gun, and a new leg that has an anti-tank launcher in its knee.
There is always a minor worry that such a ludicrous concept could be taken seriously and completely ruin everything, but fortunately that is not the case here. Nearly everything is treated with exactly the kind of humor that it should be. Shozo shouts one liners constantly, and I found myself laughing throughout the film. If you are looking for a good time, Yakuza Weapon can certainly provide that.
If you have seen Park Chan-wook’s incredible film Oldboy, you likely remember the single-take fight scene in the hallway between Oh-Daesu and a bunch of other people. The scene, which is something like three and a half minutes long, has been trumped. In fact, the four-and-a-half minute single-take fight in Yakuza Weapon makes the one in Oldboy look like it was done by a first year film student. Seriously. There is no CGI stitching, although some is used occasionally to make the mini-gun and rockets do their thing. The scene is truly incredible. It moves throughout rooms, up some stairs, and the camera constantly swerves in and out, getting all of the action. It is like nothing you have ever seen. And the most shocking part is that Tak Sakaguchi did the entire thing… with a broken neck. In the following Q&A session, which I hope to have transcribed in the next few days, he revealed that during the first take one of the stunt men backed away from the fight, and Sakaguchi fell and broke his goddamn neck… and he kept filming. He says the doctor told him that, were it not for all of the muscles in his neck, he would be dead.
If for no other reason, you should watch Yakuza Weapon for that scene alone. You will be amazed by it, because it is truly amazing. Tak Sakaguchi is the very definition of a bad-ass, as far as I’m concerned. The other fight scenes are also great, but they cannot compare to that one. My only complaint is exactly the same one I had with Zaborgar, there is too great a difference between the CGI and the reality. Every single bullet that is fake (all of them) and explosion that is fake (all of them) distract the viewer simply because the CGI is bad. The film was apparently relatively low budget, which would explain the low quality, but it’s such a shame, because it really hurts the film. That being said, there are certainly moments of actual fighting (in fact, the single-take fight is essentially devoid of CGI until the end), and those moments are excellent.
The acting is fine, and fits the mood. Interestingly enough, actors from both Last Days of the World and Karate-Robo Zaborgar play important roles in Yakuza Weapon, and they do their jobs well. In general, I have no complaints in the acting department. The music was pretty good, but there was nothing particularly memorable about it, so I have nothing more to say about that. The cinematography was often excellent, and the single-take fight scene is not the only scene that will impress you with its visuals.
Unfortunately, film does have moments where it falls flat. There are moments that seem to sincere and serious, but they completely clash with the rest of the film, and I found myself staring awkwardly at the screen while I waited for the next action scene. Fortunately, these moments never last for more than a minute or two, and there are not very many of them. Regardless, Yakuza Weapon is absolutely worth seeing. I didn’t even scratch the surface of its insanity, because I didn’t want to spoil anything for you. Let me be completely clear: the action in this film is truly amazing, and like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The CGI hurts the experience, but it absolutely has to be seen to be believed. Especially that single-take fight scene. It will blow your mind.