Yakuza Weapon (US - BD RA)
Gabe doesn't care if you rebuild him, it doesn't always make him better...
Over the last 5 or so years, Japanese B-action and horror have ended up in an unfortunate place of dumbass excess that reads well on paper, makes a good trailer and animated .gif, but generally sucks on every level important to feature length filmmaking. Much of this stems from the home video popularity of similarly excessive features in the US and Europe during the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. From these an entire industry of goofy, violent action flicks spawned, films sold to Western audiences via Youtube clips and ‘money shot’ trailers. The vast majority of these films are interchangeable garbage that offend the masses, and numb most exploitation gorehounds like myself. The best filmmakers to come out of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s era, people like Takashi Miike and Ryuhei Kitamura (inspired by directors like Shinya Tsukamoto and Teruo Ishii), have managed to move on somewhat from the grind to both Hollywood features ( Midnight Meat Train) and prestigious award-winners ( 13 Assassins), leaving room for less talented B-provocateurs to pick up the slack. Time and time again, filmmakers like Noboru Iguchi ( Machine Girl, RoboGeisha) and Yoshihiro Nishimura ( Tokyo Gore Police) have managed to take brilliantly provocative material and drill it into the ground until any semblance of fun has been wretched from the production.
Yakuza Weapon, the tale of a yakuza mercenary named Shozo Iwaki, who is killed and resurrected as a cyborg-killing machine, is another example of cartoony, violent excess run amuck without any real joy or entertainment value. Based on Ken Ishikawa’s Manga series, G o k u do H e i k I , this film suffers an overabundance of useless plot, and features a virtual gatling gun’s worth of empty-headed, flamboyant visuals. The storyline never stops unraveling or introducing characters, and dives into flashback so readily it becomes nearly impossible to tell past from current events. I gave up following the rambling narrative after about an hour, and sat in vain hope that something incredible would happen to reward my patience. To think there was a time I’d give my right arm to see a man use a naked woman as an over the shoulder bazooka (the missile comes out of her…you know). Co-director/co-writer/star Tak Sakaguchi is a graduate of the Ryuhei Kitamura school of budget action filmmaking. As an actor, Sakaguchi got his start as the star of Kitamura’s Versus, which has become a sort of high water mark for this brand of film, due to its surprising popularity (it’s a fun movie that drones on about 30 minutes too long). He also appeared in Kitamura’s follow-up films Alive, Aragami, Azumi and Godzilla Final Wars, and eventually became a genuine cult movie hero of some stature, which lead him to producing, writing and directing. Sakguchi and co-director/co-writer Yu d a i Y a m a g u c hi, who directed second unit on Versus, and who directed Sakguchi in Battlefield Baseball and Cromartie High - The Movie, have created something singularly unattractive and cheap-looking with Yakuza Weapon. It looks to me like they were inspired to some extent by Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank films, but they capture nothing near that level of over-the-top amusement over the agonizingly tedious 105 minutes.
Saddest of all, the outrageous violence and action turns stale before the title card even appears, which is saying something considering how much I was able to happily eat up the goofy exuberance of just about every film in Kitamura’s filmography. In fact, the speed at which I grew bored was so surprising I’m realizing that there’s a real art to pressing an over-abundance of humdrum violence on an audience. Perhaps Sakguchi and Y a m a g u c hi are making an artistic statement on the sad state of Japanese genre output? Few disappointing sequences can be pinned on particularly bad choreography, but the fisticuffs are largely without any sense of impact, and I can’t point to a single definitively cool thing that happens the entire film. The directors take Paul Greengrass’ hand-held look way too far, creating a sense that the entire film was shot using an iPhone. The look is maddening and repulsive enough on my television set, leading me to assume the people unfortunate enough to catch Yakuza Weapon in theaters were utterly seasick. The extremely broad and extremely Japanese sense of humour does save the film on some level, as it’s difficult to entirely lose interest in anything having this much fun with itself. There are shades of the genuinely funny Battlefield Baseball here and there, but beyond the culture shock I find that the jokes are generally just not funny. The breaks in the comedic tone are so abrupt and unearned they feel as if they’ve fallen out of an entirely different movie, and not in that impressive way Takashi Miike tends to pull off in his most disturbing work.
Well Go USA continues to impress with another decent 1080p transfer, but there’s only so much they can do with this footage. I can’t find any film specs on line, but assume Yakuza Weapon was shot using digital HD cameras. I’m also willing to assume that these cameras were not top of the line. Detail levels are relatively impressive especially in close-up, but backgrounds often turn to mud, and the hyperactive colour palette bleeds all over the place, especially in low light, where digital noise shakes things into a nearly indiscernible mess. I literally couldn’t tell you what happened during the nurse attack about an hour into the film. I was entirely lost in grainy, dark shapes, with only grotesque sound effects to let me know something violent was going down. Usually these unattractive bleeds blend without a lot of blocking, but there’s very little in terms of the sharp separation of elements, even the relatively rich black levels. Cinematographer Masakazu Oka (who I’m not convinced isn’t just Yu d a i Y a m a g u c hi shaking his iPhone about) softens most of the scenes, which doesn’t help clear up the whole muddy issue, and then blows out most of the direct lighting schemes, creating a frosted, glowing image. The effect is similar to that of filming through a camera with a greasy thumbprint over the lens. This ensures Yakuza Weapon looks hideously digitally generated, even when it the filmmakers are shooting on location.
Yakuza Weapon features a solid, as-good-as-can-be-expected DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Japanese soundtrack. The film’s excessive style extends to its never silent soundtrack, but the busy sound doesn’t necessarily equal aggressive directional effects or rear channel support. For the most part, the dialogue and action settles nicely in the center channel, where it is easy enough to discern, but rarely impressive in terms of movement. Occasionally the surround and stereo channels spark alive, usually during explosions or gun-fire-heavy action scenes (a large bomb that goes off and shakes a high tower to scrap is plenty loud), but there’s seriously very little here to set the mix apart from a solid Pro-Logic release. In fact, there’s a Dolby Surround 2.0 track included on the disc, and the only real difference between the tracks is found in their general volume levels (the fist and weapon impacts do sound better with the LFE support, I will admit). The droning electronic score, composed by Ryuhei Kitamura favourite Nobuhiko Morino, is featured extensively in the stereo channels, and features a decent bass groove.
The extras begin with a rough behind the scenes featurette (46:20, HD). This takes a fly on the wall approach, including on-sight interviews starting just before filming began, and following through to the final release. It’s all rather goofy, and wears the viewer out with its lack of context, but gives a pleasant glimpse into the fun world of independent filmmaking in Japan. Bizarrely enough, the camera is more stationary than in the film proper. Next up is a reel of ‘deleted scenes’ (12:40, HD), which as it starts up looks more like a series of make-up and costume tests strung together to me. Eventually, a collection of random outtakes and extended sequence begin. This is followed by a spin-off short entitled Takuzo Weapon (15:40, HD). Here, one of Shozo’s sidekicks realizes his friend (the other sidekick) is certified to alter human bodies into cyborgs, and runs through a series of alteration possibilities, each more ‘hilarious’ than the last. The Taxi Driver gag, complete with an elevator music version of Herrmann’s original theme scores a single laugh. The extras are completed with trailers for other Sushi Typhoon releases Helldriver, Mutant Girls Squad, Karate-Robo Zaborgar and Deadball. As I said, trailers are often the preferred format to see these films in.
This is the closest I’ve come to turning a movie off in some time. Yakuza Weapon is almost admirably boring, with almost nothing, not even graphic violence, to make the experience any less unrewarding. There’s no logical reason a comedic movie about a cyborg Yakuza shouldn’t be at least a little fun, but co-directors/co-writers Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi found a way. I recommend watching Takashi Miike’s generally not all that good Full Metal Yakuza instead of this mess if you’ve got a particular hankering for partially robotic Japanese gangsters. Well Go USA does an admirable job given the super-cheap production’s generally ugly look and flat sound.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 7th February 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese
Extras: Behind the Scenes, Deleted Scenes, Spin-Off Short, Trailers, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tak Sakaguchi, Yūdai Yamaguchi
Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Jun Murakami, Mei Kurokawa, Shingo Tsurumi
Genre: Action, Comedy and Sci-Fi
Length: 106 minutes
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