When the “Yakuza” series first debuted in 2005, it was a full-featured action game that tackled the gritty, morally gray world of the Japanese gangster lifestyle. But ten years later, it looks like the series is ready to step up its game even more. “Princess,” the latest installment in the “Yakuza” series, is a cinematic story that follows Setsuko, a young girl raised by the Yakuza, but rejected by her father for being a girl.
In the world of Japanese video games, there is a long tradition of female characters who are actual princesses. In this case, the young, beautiful, and innocent Princess Natasha is a character that fits that stereotype. She has a secret past as a London gangster, that she has to keep safe at all costs.
Yakuza films have always fascinated and enthralled me more than most American gangster films. With great intensity, excellent production, and distinctive characters engaged in innovative combat sequences, Beat Takashi, Kinji Fukasaku, Seijun Suzuki, and Takashi Miike have enhanced the yakuza genre. As a result, when I first saw the poster for Yakuza Princess, I was instantly intrigued and eager to learn more. I had signed up for some trashy fun, and although it was enjoyable, it didn’t quite reach the heights I had hoped for.
The comic “Samurai Shiro” by Danilo Beyruth inspired Yakuza Princess. She follows Akime (MASUMI), a woman from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who learns she is the yakuza family’s heir. After being challenged by Shiro (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an amnesiac gaijin, and Takashi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), a yakuza lieutenant, Akime tries to find out who to trust and how to defend herself from competing yakuza.
Thanks to filmmaker Vicente Amorim’s use of a delightfully murky pulp aesthetic, the film looks great. The film was steeped in the comic book aesthetics that I like, with neons, smoke, and rain. While there are unavoidable (and intentional) comparisons to John Wick’s production (considering that John Wick seems to be the newest franchisee for action movies to steal off), I love the aesthetic and can’t complain. The film seems to be strongly inspired by Takashi Miike, with its strangely aggressive side characters and intense action sequences. They’re amusing, and I liked them, but I wish the film did more to establish its own personality, especially given the unique setting. I was unaware that Brazil had a sizable Japanese community until I watched this movie, and the film did a great job of showcasing it. The film goes behind the scenes of shady enterprises and pubs frequented by crooks, revealing a whole universe inside one city. I’d have liked to have seen more.
The editing in the first act is responsible for many of the film’s faults. Rather of concentrating on Akime, the filmmakers spend a significant amount of time to Shiro, even starting the film with him. This problem continues throughout the movie, since the camera will cut to Shiro even when he isn’t doing anything. It may be because Jonathan Rhys Meyers is the film’s biggest star, but focusing so much of the first act on him slows the pace and stops us from seeing Akime as the main character. Throughout the film, Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ scenes seemed crowbarred, seldom meshing with the rest of the ensemble.
In the second half, the image improves dramatically. When the film includes action sequences and focuses on Akime’s battle with her identity, it is at its finest. The combat scenes are excellent, with lots of gore and a broad range of martial arts, gunfights, and swords. MASUMI’s performance sells her dichotomy, as I sense her uncertainty about who she is, discomfort in her present life, and strength in a fight. Plus, once the story gets going, her involvement with the yakuza seems real. Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrays an odd guy in this film. The actor most known for his role in Velvet Goldmine portrays a vicious boxer, which is unique since he only catches the physicality of the sport.
While I was enjoying myself with what I had at the end of the movie, I couldn’t help but think it might have been so much more. With a bit more focus and a tighter screenplay, it might have been a terrific action film. It features intriguing characters, a fantastic concept, and a great look. Yakuza Princess, however, lacks the great story and characterisation that raises it to the level of other games in the category. A sequel is hinted at throughout the film, and I’ll be on the lookout for it. I love Akime and am eager to watch her story unfold, and now that her character has been established, a sequel might be more focused. In the end, Yakuza Princess is enjoyable, but it falls short of becoming a great action movie.
On September 3rd, Yakuza Princess will be available digitally worldwide.
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