PJAM 2011: Boozie Movies reviews YAKUZA WEAPON

YW final.jpgI could just as easily copy and paste my review from RoboGeisha last year to sum up my feelings for Yakuza Weapon.  But since I'm enjoying a nice happy hour at my local watering hole with lap top in tow, where would the fun be in that?

Much like RoboGeisha, I made a rather silly decision to try and watch the film sober and initially found it be a grueling exercise in infantile overabundance. As with nearly every other Sushi Typhoon film of the past year, my gut reaction was, "aren't they done with this yet?"

Yet, when I sat down for a second go with a six pack of Golden Monkey and my own magical flask, the experience changed entirely. Somewhere between my second beer and third knock of whiskey, Yakuza Weapon suddenly transcended into a blissfully idiotic good time. I found myself giggling uncontrollably like a 12 year reading through the cartoons of a Hustler magazine after huffing glue under the bleachers.

I've been unfair to Tak Sakaguichi in the past as his recents films largely felt like bottom feeder material within the Sushi Typhoon cinema movement. Nishimura and Iguchi are largely given all of the credit and good press with their films. Meanwhile, Sakaguichi's Samurai Zombie, and Be a Man: Samurai School were mostly overlooked and forgotten. Nishimura and Iguchi are the better directors,  but let's not forget that Tak played an integral role with Ryuhei Kitamura's early films, particularly, Versus, which paved the road for Nishimura and Iguchi's own popular brand of madness.

Anymore, the slew of ultra gory comedies coming from Sushi Typhoon haven taken on an air of Asian minstrel show. These pictures are being produced specifically for a western market, for those with cultural misconceptions and expectations of what a Japanese genre film should be. Many of these have yet to be released or even screened in Japan and from firsthand experience, pictures such as Versus and Machine Girl don't even play well to a general Japanese audience.

Yet, Nikkastu has done well to capitalize on foreign Otaku culture. For all of the gore hounds and fan boys who automatically equate Japanese popular culture with tentacle porn, hyper violent anime, panty vending machines, and the Guinea Pig movies, the Sushi Typhoon label was made just for you.

But, I don't believe these films are a product or direct representation of Japanese popular culture or taste, more, they serve as scathing parodies of what the west has come to encapsulate the Japanese as being. When viewed through the lens of a post modern, totally self aware, Vaudevillian style entertainment, these Sushi Typhoon films are kinda brilliant. But that just might be the $3 Manhattans speaking right now. 

But it's best to approach Yakuza Weapon as a parody since it really plays out like a feature length Mad TV skit lambasting the yakuza film genre. It's silly, sometimes, unbearingly so. Many of the jokes fall flat but there's a frenetic energy and almost sympathetic desperation to entertain that is also very endearing, and under the right circumstances, absolutely fucking hysterical.

Much like any great yakuza film, Weapon makes no sense. Even sober, it was damn near impossible to follow the maze like plot. Tak plays Shozo Iwaki, the son of a prominent Oyabun and a warrior of fortune who returns to Japan from some war in some jungle somewhere to find that his father has been murdered and that the many yakuza families are now warring as Tetsuo, Shozo's former friend, tries to absolve them all. Whew. That was a mouthful right?

At some point, Tak gets his arm blown off while trying to rescue his ex fiancé and is rebuilt by some secret government agency or another yakuza gang (couldn't figure it out) to become the ultimate weapon in taking out Shozo and his gang. He has a gattling gun arm and rocket launcher knee cap. Really, I have no idea what was happening most of the time. But then again, can anyone actually explain to me the plots of Ichi the Killer or Dead or Alive? What you need to know is that Tetsuo has a younger sister played by Cay Izumi who's been rebuilt as a human gun, a hot, naked lady gun.  At one point, Shozo uppercuts a parapalegic, knocking him up into outer space, Shozo then jumps up, punches a nuclear bomb through the falling man's chest, and then pile drives him down into the base of Fuji Mountain.  It's retarded, but gut bustingly funny at times.

The film spends much of its running time parodying Japanese macho male posturing. There aren't any true obscenities in the Japanese language.  There are slang words and derogatory phrases built with out of context words, but there's nothing that really equates to the same raw power of calling someone something like "cock sucker, faggot, mother fucker, shit head, etc."  Instead, many Japanese will just yell and roll their tongues to indicate that they are trying to insult or threaten someone.  It's a practice that I've always found rather humorous in most yakuza films and I suspect Tak did too.

Nearly every line of dialogue is screamed at top decibel with actors rolling their tongues at inappropriate times. I won't claim to be fluent in Japanese or that I could ever even attempt to translate the film, but I understand enough to know that many of the characters are simply yelling gibberish most of the time while rolling their tongues in a really silly pissing match. Unfortunately, the sub-titles don't reflect that and much of the humor is lost in translation.

Tak's ego and dedication are both notorious within the Japanese film scene and it seems as though he's trying to laugh at himself a little here. He plays the ultimate badass, but he's also a creep with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The character of Shozo is just so ugly and pathetic, that he doesn't even really work as an anti- hero.

There's a lot of violence against women, something fairly common for the genre, but it's taken to extreme levels here that again indicate that the whole film should be viewed as a comedic satire. Shozo beats up his girlfriend, even throws her off of a bridge, and yells at her for getting hurt. One delirious set piece involves a gruesomely violent accidental massacre of innocent nurses.  There's an air of misanthropy and misogyny that has the potential to be funny if intended as satire.

While the film looks subpar with overlit video cinematography and embarrassing CG, Yuji Shimomura's superb fight choreography and action set- pieces elevate the film.  Yakuza Weapon soars when it features Tak doing what Tak does best, kicking ass.

Yakuza Weapon is rough around the edges, it looks like hell, it makes no sense, and it certainly is not on the same level of Tokyo Gore Police. But there's a lot of DIY underdog charm to Tak's feature, and for anyone with a deep familiarity of convoluted yakuza films, this should provide plenty of laughs.  Yakuza Weapon is perfect fare for inebriated midnight viewing which is fitting as it will be screening midnight on Friday, July 8th as part of the Philly Japan Arts Matsuri. Tak Sakaguichi and fellow cast and crew will be in attendance with NYAFF programmer, Marc Walkow.

Tickets are available online at http://www.princemusictheater.org/

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