Well first of all, Yakauza Princess is NOT a Disney film, in case you were drawn in by the second word of the title. Should I actually see a movie before suggesting it to someone on the basis of its name? Maybe. But that’s one parent who will never again ask me for a movie for their second grader’s slumber party. So lessons were learned all around, and if you learned something, it’s not really a mistake.
Anyway, Jonathan Rhys Meyers hangs dong in it and there are more headshots and spraying slit throats than your average John Wick movie.
That makes it sound way better than it is.
OK, so Meyers’s Shiro wakes up with total amnesia in the hospital, and he’s got this legendary cursed sword. And he sets out to find the Yakuza Princess, Akemi (pop star Masumi), who is the long-lost daughter of the head of the Yakuza, and has been raised in secret in São Paulo, training in martial arts for her entire life. Legions of bad guys are hunting them, and they have to make with the stabbing and shooting.
Damn it, I did it again.
Every attempt to explain this movie makes it sound really cool, and I cannot stress enough how absolutely tedious, derivative, and boring the entire thing is. Some things are greater than the sum of their parts, made into something special by combinatorial alchemy. This movie does the opposite, systematically taking all of the interesting-sounding parts and making them smaller and more mediocre with every addition. Doesn’t matter if you add the best ice cream in the world, a shit smoothie is still a shit smoothie.
The movie mistakes incoherence for mysteriousness, cramming its run time full of nonsensical events in order to make it seem like some big revelation will suddenly snap it into focus while Keyser Söze stops limping. It doesn’t. We never learn why Meyers lost his memory. Or what the deal is with the sword. Or who the random cryptic speaking folks at the monastery they visit are. Or what all their cryptic bullshit means. Or why the graveyard has gravestones with their photos on them. Or who the people are that saved Yakuza Princess all those years ago. Or why anyone cares that she exists in the first place. Or why the creep she beats up early in the movie looks EXACTLY like Art Alexakis.
The big reveal — um spoilers, I guess — is that the random dude that died when Yakuza Princess was 2 years old wasn’t her grandfather … it was her father! Wow, that ain’t exactly “she’s my sister and my daughter,” but Yakuza Princess’s world sure seemed shooketh.
Screen text in the opening scene announces the movie’s Brazilian setting by declaring that São Paulo is the largest Japanese community in the world. I assume they meant outside of Japan, or I have to seriously reassess some preconceived notions. This creative setting then proceeds to not matter in the least for the rest of the movie. We know empirically that Brazil can be an amazing setting, and yet not a single safe is dragged on a high speed chase through streets in this movie. Makes me furious.
But then that would require some sense of fun, and this movie takes itself more seriously than Schindler’s List.
When you have a movie about a long-lost daughter of a Yakuza kingpin slaughtering a legion of extras in Brazil, you should at least have some fun with it. The only point of amusement was early in the movie when Yakuza Princess goes out for her 21st birthday with exactly one friend to a karaoke bar and then gets up to sing and does so atrociously. It was the saddest 21st birthday party ever, and the offkey karaoke just put the nail in it and I assumed the movie was going to have some fun with itself.
Then I looked up the cast to write this review and it turns out Yakuza Princess is played by a Japanese-American pop singer named Masumi.
And I know a thing or two about music. I own two entirely different CDs by The National and once went to a Jack Johnson concert and left early to beat the traffic. Eat your heart out, Pitchfork.
This movie is a waste of your time. Go watch just about anything else.
Yakuza Princess is available for digital rental as of Sept. 3, 2021.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.