Plot Outline: Kensuke (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) is a low-level member of a Yakuza syndicate who doesn’t seem to be able to do anything right. He is chased off by an elderly woman when trying to collect debts, he cowards out at the last minute during an assassination and he can’t even please a woman in bed. His life is going down the tubes quick, but just as his life is falling to pieces his old boss Tousa (Takeshi Caesar) is getting a new start as he is set free from prison for murdering a series of rival gangsters with a sword a few years back. Kensuke is in awe of this magnificent specimen of gangster stoicism, but it doesn’t last long because a hit has been called on Tousa and before he can even get back with his old girlfriend who still loves him dearly, he is shot dead along with Kensuke after the two are set up. It might seem like the end of the story, but it’s not. Kensuke and Tousa’s bodies were sold on the blackmarket, and Kensuke awakens in a new body. A Full Metal body. That’s right, he’s a cyborg. Now he sets out to make things right, but even though he now
has amazing powers, he’s still the same Kensuke at mind.|
The Review: Just to get it out of the way, a few months back I was contacted by a fellow from Artsmagic DVD. A UK company about to make the jump across the pacific and begin selling Asian films in the region 1 market (U.S.A. and Canada, of course). All that was needed to sell me on their operation were the two words I think I love most, ‘Takashi’ and ‘Miike’. The first of their R1 releases eventually showed up on my front door a few days ago, and that film is Full Metal Yakuza. I had originally seen FMY about a year or so ago from the best of my recollection, and my oh my, what a difference watching the film for a second time makes. I had actually written up a small and overtly positive piece on Full Metal Yakuza way back when, and in preparing for this review I decided to take a look at my previous writing. Shamefully, as much as I used to enjoy Full Metal Yakuza, I think I had become a seminal fan of the film for all the wrong reasons. My first review on basically consisted of the usual “so bad it’s good” jive, but after this second (and third) viewing of the film, I gained a whole lot more from it than just a simplistic Robocop-ripoff with a wee bit more cruelty. As a matter of fact, if it had not been for Tom Mes bringing up the similarities between the two films in the Audio Commentary, I seriously doubt Robocop would have even dawned in my mind. Full Metal Yakuza may borrow from a few popular films now and again, but the originality and down right insanity will no doubt be what keeps the film’s cult fanbase growing. For those who are just becoming privy to the works of Takashi Miike, and who have only seen his more atmospheric or artistic works (such as Ichi the Killer or Audition), this film may come as a bit of a shock. Full Metal Yakuza works at the complete opposite of something you might expect from an auteur. It’s a campy and violent B-Movie to put it in simple terms. Much like his film Fudoh The New Generation, it’s something Miike made on a low budget for the straight to video market, but just because these are the circumstances does not mean the film isn’t worthy of being taken serious. You can’t take it too serious mind you, but it’s not just mindless mayhem. With the obvious low budget nature of Miike’s work, particularly at the time this film was made, and the rebellious nature that Takashi tends to tackle cinema, it’s hard to ever imagine his work ever becoming too simplistic. The characters in FMY, no matter how absurd the situation may be, are human (even for a cyborg) and the drama is there at all times. It may not be tackling the heaviest or newest of territories, but underneath all of the pulp violence and campy humor is a tale of a man who has been stripped of all dignity and worthiness. If you can strip yourself of pretension, it’s a film to be entertained with to no end and a incredibly bizarre (not to mention unique) character piece. After all, this is a Takashi Miike film.
The film may just end up being a film based around a pun for those who aren’t susceptible for this kind of over-the-top cinema, but there are those who have a taste for this sort of cinema, and I’m one of them. Full Metal Yakuza isn’t exactly ‘deep’, I’ll admit that. The character development in the film may even seem contrived for the cinematic elitists in the audience, but at the heart of the film, it truly is a warm experience. A tragedy of sorts, and believe me I know how odd that sounds. It may have a rough look to it, and maybe it might seem hollow on first glance, but there’s more to it than just the exploitation. Not that there’s anything wrong with a film that takes you head on into exploitation with no illusions of grandeur, but FMY is a film centered around humanity and the loss of it. The violence and gore are certainly aspects of the film, but not the only things to enjoy. The film in essence is a dark comedy, with a plethora of comedic styles that range from funny faces, to dialogue driven to the absolute most random bits of surrealist humor. Once again, this is a Takashi Miike film after all. Miike’s usual bits of subtle humor are amped up and made into a campy hybrid of a lot of his usual nuances. The feminine dance that Kensuke has to use in order to evade bullets is a wonderful example. The comedy is thrown into scenes you would never expect to have the dark drama and humor gel, but somehow everything comes out feeling cohesive. Not everything works to perfection though, the seemingly endless mix of humor and straight drama does work against the film in some respects. It’s almost disorienting whenever the film takes a bit of a slow down toward the end of the film, right before the final conclusion, but as much as it takes a footing away from the pacing of the film, this is also where a lot of the heart of the film comes from. That simple drama taken to pinnacles so completely unexpected. There are certainly hit and miss moments in Full Metal Yakuza and this is where it’s bound to lose some of it’s audience, but for a Miike fan who is accepting of Miike’s varying artistic tastes, the film should at the very least prove to be quite interesting.
Shot on digital video (from what I can tell), the cinematography in the film won’t be blowing down your doors, suffice to say. Yet, even though the budget is so obviously small, and some of the images tend to be of the garish quality, there’s a certain fluid nature to the film. With the rapid editing and the smooth images, the film takes on a sort of campy art-house feel. The film is far out and over the edge in nearly every way possible, including the imagery. The special effects in the film appear to be small bits of animation added on later in production, but don’t exactly look like CGI either. It seems pretty obvious that Miike wanted his film to look the way it did. As Tom Mes pointed out in the commentary (I’ll talk about that in the next paragraph), with such cheesy special effects, it seems Miike was not trying to hide the low budget nature of the film. The same can be said about the opening credits as well, if anyone knows of Full Moon Pictures, just think of their budgets. The musical score for the film is taken way over the top just to match everything else, about as elementary as you can possible imagine, the score takes the sci-fi aspect of the film and rams it right down your throat. As I think I’ve made clear, these things in their own right probably wouldn’t work in any normal film, but it’s the degrees that Miike is willing to hype everything up above what you might expect that somehow makes all of these loose ends tie together and create a portrait that somehow straightens itself out. The performances given by the actors are actually the biggest surprises in the film if you ask me. There are members of the cast that ham it up obviously, like Tomorowo Taguchi, but it’s so tounge-in-cheek that the audience should get the fact that this isn’t meant to be taken serious. Tomorowo Taguchi is certainly the stand-out performer of the film in my opinion, his leather outfits and straight up psychotic behavior makes him either the strangest or the greatest ‘mad scientist’ I think I’ve ever seen. He steals every scene he’s in pretty much, and delivers what has to be the funniest and most memorable final scene in the film. You’ll know it if/when you’ve seen it. Tsuyoshi Ujiki as Kensuke gets to spread his dramatic wings as well as show off a knack for entertainment, but amongst much of the zanyness around him, he’s essentially the straight man. His development of the character over the course of the film is actually well accomplished. The moments of silence he and Shoko Nakahara’s (who some might remember from Visitor Q) character share on the beach shed a lot of light on the emotional state of the film as well as the character. The whole movie is pretty much made up of Miike regulars, with Takeshi Caesar playing his regular tough guy role and the aforementioned Tomorowo and Shoko Nakahara with Ren Osugi and Yuichi Minato given supporting roles. Pretty much Miike’s whole outfit at the time the film was made. Everyone gives their all to the project, and although it may not be up for any awards by your mainstream critics, the handling of camp and serious drama is done so with great talent.
The DVD: Normally I don’t review the actual prospects of how I viewed whichever film I review, because to me a movie is a movie. At this point I’ll take a film how I can get it and focus on the film it’s self, not the packaging. Yet for this review I’m breaking that tradition. Seeing that Artsmagic were nice enough to send me a promotional copy of the disc, I thought I might as well go over it for the audience at home. I think prattling on about the picture quality is almost a moot point for a low budget film such as this, but for what it is the picture quality is certainly above average. The subtitles for the most part are quite well done, with a few grammatical errors here and there but nothing outlandish. The film comes with three interviews for bonus features, along with the audio commentary provided by Tom Mes (of Midnight Eye.com and author of Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike) and promotion work for other Artsmagic releases. The interviews are actually quite informative, not only on the film but a general sense of how the Japanese film industry works. The first interview is about 30 minutes and features my idol, Takashi Miike, and although it may be blasphemous to say it, his interview didn’t turn out to be my favorite of the disc. Miike gave away a great deal of information, perhaps even too much. The interviews are all shot with one camera focused on the subject with seemingly very few cuts, and after about twenty five minutes with Miike it feels as if it’s time to move on. He is always an interesting interview though, and I swear every time I see him talk he almost seems to speak in cinematic proverbs, but that of course could just be me. The second interview is with one of Miike’s frequent editors, Yasushi Shumamura. I would have to say Yasushi’s interview was probably my favorite of the three. His energy and passion for the film came through and never sounded forced. Perhaps he was just excited to be interviewed by a group of people from halfway around the world interested in a small film he cut together nearly a decade ago. He also gives a lot of information on his relationship between Miike and how they work together. He may not be the most notable interview on the disc, but he has an intriguing personality. The third review is with star, and ex-rock musician Tsuyoshi Ujiki. His interview is as interesting as the others, but he tends to focus more on his personal experiences rather than going on about Miike. It appears he really did not enjoy the physical labor that the film put on him, but he seems like an honest person. Not to mention a somewhat bizarre sense of fashion (like Weezer meets mad scientist). Last but not least, there is Tom Mes’ audio commentary. I’m a lover of commentary tracks, and didn’t quite know what to expect from Mes, but he completely blew me away. He rarely goes over the same information more than once, rarely goes silence and continually gives the audience small bits of trivia throughout the film. Certainly my favorite attribute of the DVD and the reason I would give to straight up buy it. I’m envious to the point of anger for Tom Mes because he’s so much more knowledgeable of Asian cinema, but I also now bow at the man’s alter. All hail The Mes!
The Conclusion: Another little segment I don’t usually add, but seeing that I wanted to add a few parting words, I thought I would make things clear. I’m telling everyone as it is, Full Metal Yakuza isn’t going to make everyone happy. Certainly not even all Miike fans. People see a few films from a director and they begin to think they know what to expect from the next, but that’s just not the case with Takashi Miike. Full Metal Yakuza breaks down the doors between what is acceptable in a Yakuza film as much as a drama. There is extreme violence in the film, including one of Miike’s nastiest rape scenes ever films, but there is depth underneath all the energy and humor. It may take a second watch, even if you loved it the first time around like me. Full Metal Yakuza demonstrates once again how brilliant and needed Takashi Miike is in this day and age.