Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Yakuza Princess, from Brazil

Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, mostly concentrated in Sao Paulo and some of the rural provinces. That makes it a logical place for the daughter of the assassinated Kawa Yakuza clan leader to hide in plain sight. Initially, Akemi does not know of her heritage, but she will learn soon enough when killers come looking for her in Vicente Amorim’s Yakuza Princess, which opens Friday in select theaters and on-demand.

Akemi has just turned twenty-one, so she stands inherit the Kawa mantle, such as it is. However, her kendo sensei and surrogate father has kept her in the dark regarding her Yakuza legacy. As we see in the prologue, her father’s rivals viciously gunned down the entire family. Only his lieutenant Takeshi survived by conveniently (but suspiciously) switching allegiances, and as an infant, she was also somehow lost in the shuffle.

Suddenly, the Osaka underworld is highly interested in the Liberdade neighborhood in Sao Paolo. In addition to her, the rival Yakuza clan is looking for a rare Muromachi samurai sword. So is a mystery gaijin referred to as “Shiro” in the credits. He has amnesia, but questions about the sword still resonate for him. Weirdly, he has a habit of showing up just in time to help Akemi even the odds against her attackers, even we (and mostly likely he) can assume his original business with her was drastically different.

Seriously, how can you go wrong with hack-and-slash Yakuza action in Brazil? Amorim certainly doesn’t, adapting Danilo Beyruth’s graphic novel (with a battery of co-screenwriters). His action sequences are slickly stylish, ranking up with the films of genre masters like Kitano. Amorim has a good affinity for the history and tradition of the Japanese Brazilian community, having previously helmed the excellent
Dirty Hearts. In Princess, he adds the violent genre sensibilities of Mottorad (fortunately, we cannot see much of his stylish but muddled English language film, Good).

Japanese-American vocalist MASUMI shows off some impressive action chops as Akemi and she handles her dramatic duties well enough (especially considering this is her film debut). Flinty-as-heck Tsuyoshi Ihara is all kinds of awesome anchoring the film as hard-bitten Takeshi. Jonathan Rhys Meyers pales in comparison as Shiro, the blank slate, but at least it looks like he keeps up during the action sequences.

Cinematographer Gustavo Hadba (who also shot
Mottorad) makes everything looks cool, especially the top-notch fight choreography and stunt work. The Brazilian setting adds an interesting dimension, but you will hear much more Japanese than Portuguese (if you’re looking to supplement your Duolingo). Highly recommended as some good slice-and-dice fun, Yakuza Princess opens Friday (9/3) in theaters and on-demand.