For a while, there, Japanese horror had established a serious beachhead on western shores, with a seemingly endless assault of quality spook flicks that were praised for both their sophisticated scares and quiet and unnerving atmosphere. Audiences were floored by films like Ringu and Ju-on, and horror fans who’d long ago tired of slasher conventions and Hollywood-style scares, looked to the East as the future of “serious” horror. Longtime fans of Japanese cinema (and pop culture, as a whole), however, weren’t fooled. Those of us who’d sat through countless viewings of hentai classics like Demon Beast Invasion, off-the-wall Yakuza flicks like Tokyo Mafia: Yakuza Wars, and hours upon hours of “Pink” flicks knew that these somber ghost stories offered but a glimpse into the true world of Japanese cinema. Luckily for us, the newfound infatuation with all things Japanese opened the floodgates for a virtual treasure trove of trashy entertainment that, until this point, was only attainable through expensive import DVD or rubbish-quality black-market VHS.
While the market for the more serious-minded J-horror dried up by the late noughties, insatiable fans of schoolgirl outfit-wearing samurais and cyborg geishas continues to grow, and the awesome Asian cinema imprint, Well Go USA, has been bringing us the best of the bunch, most recently giving us the bloody-as-all-get-out Helldriver and the title I’m reviewing today, the bug-nuts-insane parody that is Yakuza Weapon.
Yakuza Weapon is based on the manga by the late, great Ken Ishikawa, and tells the story of Shozo “Junior” Iwaki (Tak Sakaguchi) - the son of a Yakuza crime lord who has fled his native Japan to work as a mercenary in the jungles of South America. Shozo is tracked down by Red Tiger, a mysterious government agent who informs him that his father’s been assassinated.
Shozo reluctantly returns to Tokyo to find out who is behind his father’s murder, and quickly learns that the family business has been taken over by Kurawaki (Shingo Tsurumi) – a formerly high-ranking officer in the Iwaki family who had once served as Shozo’s father’s right-hand-man. After making his presence known by demolishing a small loan operation, Shozo sets his sights on Kurawaki, himself, who is in the process of trying to force all of the smaller Yakuza families to work for him.
Shozo’s return not only a surprise to Kurawaki, but also to rival family boss, Nayoko (Mei Kurokawa), who is betrothed to Shozo thanks to a marriage arranged by both of their families many years before. While Nayoko wants to win Shozo back, Kurawaki has his own plans for the young beauty he’s obsessed about since her schoolgirl years.
Complicating matters is the return of Shozo’s spiritual brother (and only equal in terms of strength and fighting prowess), Tetsu, who’s released from prison only to fall back into his old routines, including a nasty heroin addiction that makes him the perfect candidate for Kurawaki’s “Death Drop Mafia” – a gang of addicts and transients powered by a super drug concocted by Kurawaki’s mad scientist brother.
What follows are a series of increasingly improbable and laugh-out-loud funny skirmishes that ultimately leads to a full-on assault of cyborg-versus-cyborg combat in which arms become machine guns, legs become rocket launchers, and a naked woman’s nether regions…well… you’ll just have to see that bit for yourselves.
Yakuza Weapon comes to us courtesy of Sushi Typhoon; a “filmmaking collective” of Japan’s biggest and brightest talents, where star/director Sakaguchi and co-director Yūdai Yamaguchi (Battlefield Baseball), worked together over a seemingly impossible 12 day shoot to create one of the funniest and most wildly imaginative action/sci-fi/horror parodies to come from Japan since Sakaguchi’s legendary low-budget yakuza/zombie mash-up, Versus. The first half of Yakuza Weapon lampoons the indestructible badass movies of yore, with nods to Rambo, The Killer, and pretty much every movie Takeshi Kitano’s ever been in. Shozo - who Sakaguchi plays with a Jack Sparrow-like swagger mixed with maturity of a 12 year old boy – dishes out severe, borderline slapstick beatdowns of an endless array of hired goons, drug-fueled zombies, and pretty much anything else that gets in his way. Once Shozo is critically injured and has his limbs replaced with some serious firepower, the action gets even more absurd, and the film kicks into bad-taste overdrive.
For much of Yakuza Weapon’s running time, the film is extraordinarily entertaining stuff. The first ten minutes alone had me laughing like a madman, and it only got better from there. Unfortunately, there are some pacing issues, as well as strangely serious shifts in tone employed during Tetsu’s backstory segments that bog the film down at times. Still, this film’s an absolute treat for fans of crazy Japanese imports like Robogeisha, Tokyo Gore Police, and the aforementioned Helldriver,
Well Go presents Yakuza Weapon on Blu-ray with a solid a 1.78:1 1080p transfer. Yes, it’s a bit soft at times, and the film’s DV origins are occasionally apparent in blown highlights and chromatic inconsistencies, but it looks pretty damned good for a film that was shot for basically peanuts and in the amount of time most producers spend figuring out where to park their stars’ trailers. The audio is much more impressive, with a booming 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix that perfectly recreates every punch, kick, and splat in a non-stop aural assault that is both thoroughly immersive and downright near-deafening. Extras include a great behind-the-scenes feature entitled, appropriately enough, Behind the Scenes (HD) that offers a lengthy look at the making of the film, the give and take of two talented directors working together, and well as a peek into the inner-workings of the Sushi Typhoon project. Other extras include “Deleted Scenes” (HD) which aren’t exclusively deleted scenes at all, but, rather, camera tests and hilarious costume mock-ups, as well as the short parody of the film (a parody of a parody!), Takuzo Weapon (HD).
Well Go continues to import some of the finest and most unique cinematic offerings from the far east, and Yakuza Weapon continues that trend. While this is certainly not a film for everyone (there’s some seriously twisted stuff here, folks), fans of Yakuza films will surely appreciate the parody, while anime enthusiasts and Tokyo shock addicts will love every crazed second of it.