Full Metal Yakuza (1997)
By: CJ on April 18, 2004  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Artsmagic (UK). Region 2, PAL. 1:85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 103 minutes
The Movie
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Yasushi Kitamura, Shoko Nakahara and Ren Osugi
Screenplay: Itaru Era from a story by Hiroki Yamaguchi
Music: Koji Endo
Tagline: 'Part Man, Part Machine, All Yakuza'
Country: Japan
AKA: Full Metal Gokudo
Atrsmagic, a UK based DVD company are preparing to begin unleashing their product line in the USA, the first of these releases will be Takashi Miike's Full Metal Yakuza (due for release Stateside in May 2004). The following review is of the UK release, released on their Eastern Cult Cinema imprint, which will be identical in content to the US release, except for it being encoded in NTSC, as opposed to the UK release which is PAL.

Those familiar with Miike's work through such cinematic offerings as Fudoh: The New Generation and Ichi the Killer will know what to expect. An abundance of surrealistic imagery, extreme violence and black humour are on display here and all these elements fuse seamlessly together in a wild visual ride that assaults the senses. Pre-dating Ichi by several years, this film nonetheless exhibits all of Miike's trademark styles and you can definitely see what direction he his heading in, in his directorial career. Miike is not one to shy away from onscreen violence either, and this film is no exception – you have been warned.

On the surface of things, Full Metal Yakuza is like an oriental riff on Robocop, but Miike makes it his own, creating something unique and entertaining and manages to explore new themes and ideas in this already overworked genre.

The story centres around Hagane (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) who is enamoured at the idea of being a Yakuza member and works for a Yakuza family doing menial tasks, but dreams of one day becoming a fully-fledged gangster. When he is cut down in a hail of bullets during a hit on his boss, Tousa, he reawakens to discover that he has been resurrected as a bullet-proof cyborg with superhuman strength. He also carries within him the heart of Tousa as well as Tousa's…erm…penis.

The film then becomes a revenge piece, with Hagane taking vengeance on all those responsible for the hit on his boss. This includes members of his own family who had been involved in a double-cross. Hagane also manages to pick up a love interest along the way, in the form of Tousa's former mistress, but she soon flees his amorous advances when she discovers what he is and that he carries Tousa's heart within him.

However, when she is kidnapped and brutally raped (and Miike injects some necrophilia here for good measure!?), Hagane goes on the rampage and heads for a final showdown with the villains.

Full Metal Yakuza is a wildly delirious ride, but immense fun. It also points the way to Ichi in that there is an anti-hero with a silly body suit on, mercilessly killing all that get in his way – but don't let that deter you, this is well worth seeking out. It's not for the faint-hearted, though I doubt that many who read this review are of that disposition anyway! However, saying that, it's no-where near as outrageous or over over-the-top as Ichi, but it's still pretty 'out there', with enough action and violence to keep even the most jaded of viewers interested. It's also an extremely well crafted film with good performances from the leads with a story that drives along at a more than reasonable pace. It does slow down for a short while when the love interest enters the story and at first seems a little awkward and out of place from the rest of the film, but it sets the scene for what follows – so be patient, this emotional set-up is necessary.

If you enjoyed Ichi and Fudoh, then this is definitely for you. It's also good to see that the BBFC have passed this uncut – especially considering some of its strong content, particularly towards the end with the necro-rape of Tousa's former love. Highly recommended if you enjoy the absurdities and extremities of Asian cinema as I do.
Considering this film was shot on digital video and on a miniscule budget, this is a good solid transfer from the folks at Artsmagic - it also benefits from anamorphic enhancement and framed at about 1.85:1. The film suffers occasionally from contrast levels that don't look quite right, but I suspect this has more to do with the way film was shot than to any fault with the authoring at Artsmagic. The film has a strange, subdued colouring to it, but it's not a distraction, and seems as though this is the way the film was designed to look. Another plus is in the fact that the subtitles are very easy to read. There is also some amusing optical blocking of genitalia, but this is par for the course in Japanese cinema and is not something that Artsmagic imposed on the film themselves.
The film is complimented with an efficient Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, which is perfectly adequate. The dialogue is crisp and clear and there were no audible problems with the soundtrack on offer.
Extra Features
Artsmagic really do themselves proud by furnishing this release with some worthwhile extras. There are on-camera interviews with Takashi Miike (a surprisingly quiet-spoken chap!) and editor Yasushi Shimamura. There is also an audio commentary by author Tom Mes. As well as these, the disc also provides filmographies, biographies, artwork gallery and some previews.
The Verdict
An interestingly stylish and highly entertaining film with a very decent presentation by Artsmagic. The film is more akin to Miike's Ichi than it is to his Audition, just so you know what to expect in terms of content. Although it's not his best work, this Miike film is still well worth your time and attention and overall it's an extremely impressive package and definitely worth picking up. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and thought that Artsmagic had done a more than respectable job of presenting this film on DVD.
Movie Score
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