Full Metal Yakuza (1997) Movie Review

Takashi Miike is a name I go out of my way to avoid. He joins Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence, Kate Hudson, and Drew Barrymore as people whose movies I do not care for. After suffering through his “Ichi the Killer”, which I found to be the movie version of a soul-sucking demon, I have since avoided all Miike films. Not an easy task, considering the man’s prodigious cinematic output over the years. But strangely, while I despised “Ichi” with a vengeance, I did find his horror film “Audition” to be good. Take that for what you will.

“Full Metal Yakuza” is about Hagane (Tsuyoshi Ujiki), a Yakuza (Japanese gangster) who discovers that he’s not really good at the whole gangster thing. He gets regularly beaten up by young kids in the park and when it’s time to kill a rival gang, he breaks down into tears. Not exactly tough stuff, this guy. But after Hagane’s mentor Tosa (Yasushi Kitamura) gets released from prison after a long stay, Hagane feels things are looking up. Unfortunately for our hapless hero, rival gangsters are waiting to kill them.

Flash-forward to 3 months later. Instead of being dead, Hagane wakes up to find himself the experiment of tight leather pants wearing Genpaku Hiraga, who introduces himself as “The Nutty Professor”. Now imbued with (the dead) Tosa’s heart and an unstoppable robotic body, not to mention a giant sized penis (which, interestingly, is blurred whenever it’s onscreen), Hagane is determined to exact revenge for his and his boss’ murders. Can you say, “Yakuza bloodbath?”

The first thing you notice about “Full Metal Yakuza” is that it’s more comedy than actual yakuza crime drama — at least in the first half. Take for example the re-invented Hagane’s defensive stance against bullets; you could call it sissy-like and you wouldn’t be far off. The whole notion of the mad doctor grafting Tosa’s gargantuan penis onto Hagane, whose own plumbing is a joke, is a great example of the film’s take-it-or-leave-it nature — you will either think it’s all very funny or all very tasteless.

Don’t expect “Full Metal Yakuza” to be the Japanese version of “Robocop”. Although the premise seems to have been borne out of the American movie, the rest of the film follows a completely different path. Hagane’s quest for vengeance comes to an abrupt end at the hour mark, and the film becomes progressively darker and more somber in tone in the second half. It all culminates in one of those free-for-alls that involve multiple bodily decapitations and spurting blood by the gallons.

Those familiar with Miike’s work won’t be disappointed by “Yakuza”. It has no pretensions of being a deep film, and the low budget clearly constrains some of the technical prowess that Miike has shown in this area of filmmaking. The lengthy explanation by the mad doctor about Hagane’s newfound body is mostly unnecessary since it makes little sense. One wonders, then, why Miike spent so much time on it? Your guess is as good as mine. Nothing this guy does makes sense to me.

The one thing that saves “Yakuza” from being a pointless exercise in style and bad taste (re: “Ichi”) is the presence of a hero we can root for. While Hagane is no one’s idea of a hero, he is nevertheless a sympathetic figure. Later in the film, Tosa’s former girlfriend enters the scene, only to get captured by the bad guys and put in S&M gear to be raped. Her method of exit is no big shocker — unless, of course, you’ve never seen a Miike film before.

If you’re a fan of Miike’s brand of shock therapy, you’ll no doubt get a kick out of “Full Metal Yakuza”. My only advice is to know what you’re getting into, because this ain’t PBS.

Takashi Miike (director) / Itaru Era (screenplay), Hiroki Yamaguchi (story)
CAST: Tsuyoshi Ujiki …. Hagane
Yasushi Kitamura …. Tosa

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