Yakuza Princess, 2021.
Directed by Vicente Amorim.
Starring MASUMI, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Eijiro Ozaki, Toshiji Takeshima, Mariko Takai, Kenny Leu, Nicolas Trevijano, Iuri Saraiva, Ricardo Gelli, Toshi Tanaka, Yumiko Yuba, Ken Kaneco, Atsumi Iwakiri, Nduduzo Siba, Issamu Yazaky, Charles Paraventi, and Hidetoshi Imura.
The heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate forges an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac stranger who believes an ancient sword binds their two fates. She must unleash war against the other half of the syndicate who wants her dead.
Generally, if the film starts off alternating between three different key characters, it’s clear they will all converge, hopefully with a compelling mystery along the way. Hope quickly fades into pessimism and boredom watching Yakuza Princess.
Directed by Vicente Amorim (also co-writing alongside possibly too many writers, all adapting the graphic novel Samurai Shiro by Danilo Beyruth), the story follows Akemi (singer-songwriter MASUMI making a flat acting debut that comes nowhere close to conjuring up the necessary emotional responses to loss, disloyalty, and expressing righteous anger to make any of this work), a Japanese woman living in São Paulo Brazil (which houses the largest community of Japanese people in the world aside from the actual country of Japan) mourning the inexplicable murder of her grandfather while working and occasion the training with her sensei before becoming entangled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that will inevitably expose her true identity (something we already mostly know from both the title and prologue).
Elsewhere is an amnesiac hitman named Shiro (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who, if nothing else, can say he was a part of an exciting project that didn’t pan out with vigor and excitement) awaking in a hospital possessing a Muramasa (a legendary Japanese sword but the logically known to be capable of entrapping the souls of those it slices into). He’s also unaware of the meeting behind the weapon, seeking out information about it just as much as trying to jog his memory of his identity.
Over in Japan, we get a look at the Yakuza, where a lieutenant named Takeshi (Tsuyoshi Ihara, delivering the most robust performance of the bunch as someone uneasy to read with unclear goals in a good way) has stumbled into details regarding Akemi that he passes along to his superiors. His mission is intentionally vague, but he will be a part of the games at hand, setting off to São Paulo.
Somehow, all of this cannot be any duller. It takes at least an hour into the movie to get a rudimentary understanding of individual character motivations (and even then, they are often fuzzy, not exactly presented clearly). It also doesn’t help that numerous scenes in Yakuza Princess (which isn’t enough filled with slicing and dicing and blood spraying in every direction, with some decapitations thrown in for good measure) go on for an absurd length (sometimes five minutes a time) showing characters walking through environments. It’s as if the movie has no interest in answering questions or entertaining.
Maybe the filmmakers honestly thought they had something visually beautiful on their hands, but in reality, the gritty graphic novel look feels like it’s at odds with all the neon lighting permeating nearly every frame. Yakuza Princess is a consistently ugly film, which still never changes during appropriately grotesque combat sequences. It’s to be appreciated how much blood is here, but those thrills come at the expense of jumpy editing, making for often incoherent fights that lose interest just as quickly as everything else here. Except for a final one-on-one confrontation that’s about as close as Yakuza Princess comes to feeling exhilarating, all the stylistic death and set-pieces here are too busy and forgettable.
Sadly, the narrative also never focalizes into a cohesive unit with rewarding revelations. Instead, the third act involves everyone rambling about honor which comes across reductive, even though there is an admittedly pleasant attempt to paint Akemi as someone determined not to be beholden to her family’s legacy. Yakuza Princess is never necessarily painful to watch, but every aspect of its craft is poorly executed in some way. A couple of moments of delicious gore (including a head chopped off with the force of a home run baseball swing) aren’t enough to salvage this tale of organized crime.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com