It’s like Harry Potter, only Yakuza?
I love the premise of Yakuza Princess.
Akemi (MASUMI) has grown up in the care of her grandfather in the largest Japanese community in the world outside of Japan itself: Sao Paulo, Brazil. But Akemi’s grandfather is not who she believed him to be. In fact, Akemi was spirited away to Brazil as an infant; the only surviving member of a yakuza boss’ family who was slaughtered by a rival. And so, as these things tend to do, Akemi’s unknown past is about to creep up on her. A young adult grappling with normal plans for her future soon finds herself on a collision course with destiny, careening into a world of intrigue she knows little about. It’s one part Harry Potter, two parts “Beat” Takeshi crime opera.
The strongest component of Yakuza Princess is the collision course nature of the narrative co-writer and director Vicente Amorim brings to this adaptation of Danilo Beyruth’s graphic novel. We follow the disparate story lines of 3 characters who’ll no doubt connect. Obviously, there’s Akemi and her plight. Then there’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ nameless hospital patient who is experiencing memory loss and knows only that he must keep close tabs on a mysterious sword and that he’s pretty advanced in skill when it comes to… killing. Lastly we follow the dashingly handsome and menacing Tsuyoshi Ihara (of 13 Assassins and Ninja fame) as Takeshi (an homage to Beat?), a mysterious Yakuza clansman seemingly sent to dispatch of Akemi when her existence is revealed. There’s a compelling, mysterious energy that sets these three loose on the narrative and lets them collide in due time.
Yet while there’s plenty to latch on to of interest in Yakuza Princess, it rarely transcends its cool setting and badass imagery to be something that truly stands out from other yakuza films of its ilk. It’s very cool to have a female protagonist and relative newcomer MASUMI acquits herself well enough, but I wouldn’t say her performance is absolute dynamite that heralds the arrival of a new action heroine. She’s believable in the lead without necessarily absolutely inhabiting the character. Ihara is perhaps the most exciting screen presence as a wholly capable and threatening yakuza enforcer with mysterious motivations. And Meyers is also quite intriguing as a wild card with no memory. There’s a sword, too, mixed up in all of this that takes on an almost supernatural quality in an otherwise largely grounded and real world kind of story. It’s another interesting component to the narrative that bumped up my investment in the story a hair.
Yakuza Princess is one of those rock solid 3-starrer types of films that didn’t quite live up to my admittedly high expectations, but also didn’t really shit the bed in any areas particularly either. I’ve just seen a WHOLE lot of yakuza movies in my day, from such masters as the aforementioned Takeshi, or Takashi Miike, or any number of others. The Brazilian setting didn’t stand out as much as I might have hoped, and while it sets the stage for an oncoming war that might escalate the level of crazy happening if ever a sequel materialized, Yakuza Princess felt just a hair boilerplate to me. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t follow Akemi into battle if more Yakuza Princess installments came down the pike, but I would hope the temperature would be turned up quite a few degrees if this world ever gets revisited on the big screen again.
And I’m Out.