With Masumi, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Toshiji Takeshima
Posted on August 24, 2021
It doesn’t take long to Princess Yakuza to establish his violent tone. We immediately witness the horrific massacre of a family in Osaka, Japan, before spending 20 years in present-day São Paulo, Brazil. In those first few minutes, Princess Yakuza reaches the yakuza genre toolbox and brings it into the 21st century.
Akemi (Masumi) lives in São Paulo and works in a small trinket shop and trains with his sensei, Chiba (Toshiji Takeshima). Chiba was friends with Akemi’s late grandfather, the only family she had ever known. Akemi doesn’t know anything about his ancestral history and has apparently never looked for answers. However, when a recently awakened amnesiac (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), in possession of an ancient katana, crosses her path by chance, Akemi finds herself faced with a past she has never known: she is the heiress of the half of a yakuza crime syndicate. Akemi’s lineage is known to the other half of the union in Japan and the hunt for his head begins.
Princess Yakuza is based on a Brazilian graphic novel Samurai Shiro by Danilo Beirut. Director Vicente Amorim honors origins by creating frames reminiscent of comic book panels, including sprays of blood on the camera lens and wide-shot beheadings. However, Amorim makes a major departure from the black-and-white art of the source material and drowns the film in neon lights throughout. Dynamic cinematography gives Princess Yakuza a very modern feel that incorporates the style of the yakuza genre into a 21st century action flick.
Amorim remains true to the promise made in the first framework which Princess Yakuza is a violent affair. The action sets and combat choreography are brilliantly executed and don’t hold back. Masumi is particularly good at her fight scenes, showing off her skills in katana and hand-to-hand combat.
But at the same time Princess Yakuza brings a lot of cool stunts and fights, the plot itself leaves a bit to be desired. The amnesiac character is written as Akemi and his savior’s catalyst a few times. Meyers is great in the role for what it is, but the character’s presence seems unnecessary. There is also an attempt to build a mystery by leading Akemi to different people in the hopes of receiving answers about his family. Each person responds with a variant: “It’s a family secret, I don’t know, you will have to ask [insert next character here]. “It’s a plot device that fails to create the plot and becomes stale quite quickly.
Another sensitive point is the use of Japanese-Brazilian culture, or its absence. Brazil is home to the world’s largest Japanese diaspora, and the prospect of Yakuza mythology flourishing in Brazil is fresh and exciting. Unfortunately, little is made of the unique frame, to the point that Princess Yakuza could have taken place anywhere and the movie wouldn’t have changed. The film doesn’t suffer, but it feels like a missed opportunity.
The mythology associated with the yakuza is endlessly fascinating, and Princess Yakuza is a laudable attempt to add modern action to the genre. The fight scenes are fantastic and action junkies will be delighted with the violence and combat. The film’s ending makes an obvious push for a sequel, and while running Princess Yakuza Could have been better, the story and setting are quite interesting and a second shot of Akemi’s trip would be welcome.
The Fantasia Film Festival takes place from August 5 to 25 in Montreal. Screenings take place virtually and in person.