« The Cinema of Hong Kong | Main | Ocean Heaven »

February 01, 2012

Yakuza Weapon

yakuza weapon 1.jpg

Gokudo Heiki
Tak Sakaguchi & Yudai Yamaguchi - 2011
Well Go USA Region 1 DVD

In the middle of Yakuza Weapon is one scene I would encourage any serious film critic or historian to see. Or at least those people with an abiding interest in how scenes of action are filmed. The putative hero, Shozo, is pursued relentlessly by an powerful, international criminal organization. A large gang of killer nurses were unable to put Shozo down. Next, Shozo is in some building where he faces an army of guys in gray hoodies and jeans. Shozo shoots, punches, slices his way through these anonymous hired killers. The action starts as Shozo enters the building, going through rooms and hallways, and up a flight of stairs. What makes this scene remarkable is that it was done as a single take, almost four minutes long, staged by action director Yuji Shimomura.

I bring this up because of periodic discussions in some critical circles about how action scenes are filmed, especially when the current Hollywood model relies on lots of fast cutting, and extreme close-ups, all meant to convey a sense of chaos. In this case, watching a "Making of . . ." DVD supplement pays off in letting the viewer know that the scene I'm citing here was filmed as a single take, and perhaps more amazingly, it only took two times to get it right. So I'm calling it here: Yuji Shimomura is the Orson Welles of action directors, at least for his part of Yakuza Weapon.

yakuza weapon 2.jpg

The film is based on a manga by Ken Ishikawa. Nothing is as sustained or as inspired as that fight scene, but there are moments to savor. The story is about a young gangster, Shozo, who avenges the death of his father, a big time yakuza chief. Along the way, after being almost killed by the rival who murdered his father, Shozo is rebuilt by a secret government agency, with the ability to turn his prosthetic arm into a machine gun, and use an upper thigh as a cannon. That part of the film puts Yakuza Weapon loosely alongside other works of a uniquely Japanese genre of people with weapon body parts, like Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police.

At the very beginning, titles inform the viewer about the yakuza code of honor, of loyalty and chivalry. And while several characters talk about it, very little is on display here. I had to view this with a jaundiced eye, because even during the heyday of yakuza films in early Seventies, while some films presented stories of honor among the yakuza, there were also films such as those by Kinji Fukasaku that argued that there was no honor among these thieves.

My other favorite part of Yakuza Weapon is of the reunion of Shoza with fiancee, Nayoko. After demonstrating his ability to take on anybody with any weapon, Shoza meets up with Nayoko for the first time in about four years, and promptly gets shot at and beat up by this kimono clad woman. The relationship between Shoza and Nayoko, intense love and hate on her part, seeming indifference for him, recalls the stuff of great screwball comedies. Tak Sakaguchi has established himself in a series of action and fantasy films, but his scenes with Mei Kurokawa suggests an alternate type of film worth further exploration. As it stands, within the constraints of a two week shooting schedule and a budget less than a tenth of an average Hollywood film, Sakaguchi and company are to be commended for the bursts of imagination to be found in Yakuza Weapon.

yakuza weapon 3.jpg

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 1, 2012 08:53 AM