Full Metal Yakuza (1997) – By Duane L. Martin

Takashi Miike, has crafted a lot of films throughout his career and is probably best known for making ultra violent films like Ichi The Killer. He’s the kind of a director that often goes for “shock value” in his films, and Full Metal Yakuza was no exception. While not as gory or as violent as some of his other films, Full Metal Yakuza does have it’s fair share of gore and violence, though much of it is subdued likely because of the fact that he was working with a low budget and this was being made as a direct to video film.

The old saying that there is no honor among thieves certainly applies in this film as the various members of the different Yakuza families seem to do nothing but sell each other out. The hero of the film, Kensuke Hagane (played by Tsuyoshi Ujiki), joined the Yakuza because he idolized one of the upper bosses named Tosa. When Tosa was first introduced to Hagane, Hagane was scrubbing the floors and walls around his room. The other Yakuza member that introduced them told Tosa that Hagane only joined the Yakuza because of the high respect that he had for him. Tosa greeted him, and then told Hagane that he had to leave for a while. He gave him a wallet to hold on to and told him to take care of the family while he was gone. Tosa left to perform a hit on someone, and although it was a successful hit for the most part, he was wounded in the process and later captured by the police. He served seven years, and for seven years, Hagane protected that wallet and did his best to serve the Yakuza family that he belonged to. Unfortunately, Hagane was not cut out to be a Yakuza, and bungled every job he was sent on. As if his incompetence as a gangster wasn’t bad enough, he also had a little problem with impotency, which led to him having a fight with a girl he really cared about that obviously cared nothing about him.

Seven years passed, and once Tosa had served his sentence and was released from prison, he was picked up by some members of his Yakuza family. There were no bosses there to meet him though. It was all just regular, low-level Yakuza thugs that picked him up at the prison. The guys that picked him up told him that the bosses would have come but they were all in some sort of a meeting. Hagane got to be Tosa’s driver for the trip home, and when they finally arrived at their destination, Hagane spoke to Tosa and gave him the wallet that he had kept and protected for all these years. Unfortunately, it would be the last thing he ever did. A boss from a rival Yakuza gang who had had his arm cut off by Tosa in the hit he made on them seven years earlier sent a pair of hitmen to kill Tosa. Tosa pushed Hagane aside and stepped in front of him to protect him, but all this accomplished was to allow him to be on the receiving end of most of the bullets. When Tosa finally hit the ground, they killed Hagane as well.

And yet thanks to science and technology, Hagane lives again. His and Tosa’s bodies were sold by the Yakuza to a scientist who was working on creating a cyborg. He combined parts of the two men’s bodies, added in a lot of technology and a super metal shell and brought Hagane back to life. The metal he used for the body was impervious to bullets and all other forms of attack and Hagane now found that he had basically been made into some kind of a super being, although in his mind, he had only been turned into some kind of a monster. Still, his new power gave him the ability to seek out revenge on those who had killed him and the man whom he cared about and respected so much.

Watching this film was kind of like playing a computer game in god mode. What I mean by that is that once Hagane was turned into a cyborg, he went through the whole movie killing everyone and beating the snot out of people, and yet no one could harm him because of his impervious metal body. In a way it kind of took the fun out of it because you knew he was untouchable and there was never any question about whether he would be able to kill everyone he needed to kill without getting killed himself. The one exception to his indestructability came at the end of the movie when a Yakuza member that he had trusted all the way through it had turned on him and shot him in the stomach with a shotgun. It was only then that he took any real damage and actually started bleeding on the floor, which made no sense at all considering that throughout the rest of the movie he’d been shot numerous times and had been hit by a car and had taken no damage whatsoever.

There’s two other problems I had with this film, and then I’ll get on to what’s good about it. The first problem is that there’s a realy long section of the film where after he gets revenge on the Yakuza (the first time), he goes and lives on the beach in a little ramshackle hut he put together. He chose this place because it was near the Tosa family graves, and basically he spent what felt like a good twenty minutes or more of the film just moping around. I felt that they spent way too much time on this particular section of the movie, and the whole thing could have been compressed down to maybe ten or twelve minutes. Anyway, while he was there, he met up with Tosa’s ex-girlfriend and they talked and she told him about how she had tried to love other men, but that she could not forget Tosa. After they had talked and spent time together, she began to fall in love with Hagane. Hagane loved her as well, but he had no choice but to tell her they couldn’t be together because of what happened to him and because of what he had become. It was at this point that Hagane revealed to her that both he and Tosa had been combined to create a single cybernetic unit. When she heard the whole story of what happened, she decided that she had to leave. She told him that she couldn’t love two men, and as long as she stayed with him, she’d never be able to forget Tosa and move on with her life.

So she left Hagane and decided to try to get revenge on the Yakuza bosses herself by taking a knife to them out on a golf course. This of course failed because of all the people Yakuza bosses have around them, and she really accomplished nothing other than getting herself beaten and captured. This leads me to the second problem I had with this film. The Yakuza bosses take her to a warehouse and chain her up on a matress. They take turns raping her brutally until she finally bites off her own tongue and chokes to death on her own blood just to end it all. After she’s dead, the big boss takes his turn on her anyway. This was another pointless scene that I believe was only put in for the “shock value” and because it was visually disturbing. It didn’t really add anything to the film as a whole, and it was a rather depressing way to see things turn out.

Now, just because this film has its problems, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad film, because it’s not. Actually, most of it is just plain crazy and there’s scenes that will just make you sit there and say, “Hey cool!” The performances in this movie were all quite good with the exception of Hagane, but it was only after he became the cyborg that was bad. His performance before that was just fine, but for some reason, I just feel like Tsuyoshi Ujiki played the cyborg bit all wrong. He walked around looking bummed out and confused most of the time, and I just didn’t buy him in the part. The guy who played the scientist was particularly amusing to me for some reason. Mostly he just seemed goofy and eccentric, and there were a lot of very cleverly done scenes in the lab that were really enjoyable. He was even trying to make a female pleasure cyborg as the movie progressed, which led to even more amusing scenes with him.

The fight scenes in the movie were fairly well done, though I think they could have focused more on the gore and more on making the fight sequences a little more dazzling and choreographed. There was one scene where he chopped off the head of the boss that ordered Tosa killed and he kicked it through the window. The head flew all the way across town and landed at the other Yakuza’s office. Stuff like that is way cool and they would have done well to have added more of it into the movie. Still, all in all, Full Metal Yakuza was a good film, and if you’re a fan of Takashi Miike’s work, or of Japanese cinema in general, then you’ll likely find this film to be quite enjoyable. Sure it kind of comes off as a Robocop ripoff, but that doesn’t matter. Japanese films have their own flavor, and even if you took the Robocop script and gave it to a Japanese director and told him to go for it, you’d still end up seeing a completely different film. Japanese directors like Miike have their own style, which often includes blood, gore, crazy action sequences and scenes that exist for no other reason than pure shock value. Still, even though this film has it’s problems, I would have no problem whatsoever in recommending it to anyone who’s into crazy, ultra violent Japanese films, or even just violent films in general.

ArtsmagicDVD has just started releasing Japanese films into the American market, and from what I’ve seen with Full Metal Yakuza, they’re solid releases. The quality of the DVD as far as video and sound are excellent, and the extras on the disc are quite good as well. This particular disc has an interview with Takashi Miike, an interview with the editor of the film Yashushi Shimamura, an interview with Tsuyoshi Ujiki, commentary by Tom Mes, filmographies, biographies, and trailers for other films. The disc is in the original Japanese and has optional English subtitles. Watching Asian cinema in the original language with subtitles is the only way to go. You actually get to hear the actors acting rather than some voiced over interpretation. If you’d like to pick up this disc, or check out some of ArtsmagicDVD’s other releases you can check out their website at http://www.artsmagicdvd.com.