Here is yet another goofy gangster epic from Takashi's Miike's ten-year slow learning-curve of junk-films for the "V Cinema" direct-to-video market. This is no Ichi the Killer; which is to say, it is not the kind of exploitation fare that shows genius. It's just exploitation fare.
The V-Cinema era came to a close after a decade when video rental stores ceased to be an expanding market for such cheap product in Japan. But during the era a V Cinema expansion, nothing released directly to video had to be even as good as television stuff. It could have more sex & more gore, but the quality was otherwise rank amatuerism. It could've been a learning-ground for beginners who would someday make great films, but Miike himself admits that anyone with real talent who could not find a way to make real movies ended up in television or the gaming industry instead, & V Cinema "talent" was the dregs of the dregs.
In such a sesspool, Miike was heads above other V Cinema directors, but that wasn't saying much. He didn't have to do it well, so he rarely bothered to try. It was an environment that trained him to be quick & to skip such unecessary details as a decent script. Finishing six or more films a year was easy when they were permitted to be fourth-rate. So he did them quick & sloppy from unpolished scripts. He frequently made up the content day by day just before scenes were shot, & it could all be finished in as little as two weeks. In his own mind this method breeds genius even in a sesspool, because anything but spur-of-the-moment & on-the-fly would be too rigid & commercial to ever be original. But the sub-average merits of films like Full Metal Yakuza don't support Miike's belief that genius erupts, unless the definition of "genius" is "goofy."
The theme is Robocop or Million Dollar Man hybridized with yakuza-eiga (gangster genre). The badly made & insufficiently attached costume is pealing off in some of the action scenes, & you just know there couldn't be any retakes on this budget.
The first act, before there's a silly-looking robot suit that makes Power Rangers costumes for children look adult by comparison, this seemed likely to be a dour & serious edge-of-your-seat gangster film. A spectacularly cool yakuza (Tsuyoshi Ujiki as Tosa) with wonderful demon tattoo is sent to assassinate a rival gang boss. He is admired by a nerd yakuza (over-the-hill rocker Tomoro Taguchi) who is unable to threaten people who fail to repay debts to loansharks because he feels so sorry for them, & who wets his pants & cannot injure people when he is supposed to bust legs & terrorize. He tried to get himself a demon-tatoo like his hero's but it hurt too much so he only has the beginnings of a rough outline for the tattoo which even his girlfriend makes fun of, & his little pecker too. He's eventually assigned to toilet duties he's so useless, but never stops wishing he oculd be like Tosa, the ideal of gangster machismo.
Although there's a bit of humor in the nerdiness of the failing young yakuza, mainly he's played with great sympathy & contrast to his tattooed idol. But soon the story will turn slapstick & Miike tries to have it both ways, mixing absurd humor with pathos. The humor often works, but the serious bits are eye-rollingly foolish.
The day our nerd's idol gets out of prison he is assassinated. Since our nerd is with him, he gets killed too. Now you'd think robo-yakuza would be written as the idealized gangster turned into a cyborg, but no, it is the nerd who wakes up in a grimy minimalist amateur laboratory & discovers he's now a cyborg.
His idol's tattoo, neurosystem, & pecker have been grafted onto the nerd along with lots of mystery-metal. He is taught a strange (intentionally laughable) posture he can take to keep his flesh parts from being wounded whenever he has to fight someone who has a gun, & then he sets out to avenge his idol, fall in love with his idol's girlfriend, then avenge the girlfriend, until just about everyone in the cast is dead.
The goofiest scenes are sometimes the best because at least the goofiness is intentional. The discussion the young mad scientist has with the nerd-yakuza's head sitting on a table is truly good for a giggle.
By contrast the robo-yakuza as super-killer never rises above the moronic. Since it is standard for heroic yakuza to make one-against-all raids against the bad guys even without being cyborgs, one rather expects something more than one-against-all revenge raids, but the film delivers nothing extra that would actually have required a cyborg. It's really just a fantasy about a nerd who has to be turned into a super powerful robot in order to do what a really great mortal yakuza can do without being a cyborg. As heroics go it's pretty lame, like showing up at a water-pistol fight with a Thompson machine-gun. Yes super robots can kill lots of flesh & bone people, big fucking deal. The rather realistic first act with the idealized yakuza was anti-hero superb, but the slapstick nerd-fantasy of being able to do likewise just is not that interesting.
The fight scenes are nevertheless well choreographed & occasionally beautiful, though undermined by comedy. When guns instead of swords or knives come out, our robo-yakuza has to take the funny posture & scrabble forward rather geisha-like to get near enough a gunman to kill him. The comedy of violence is successfully amusing, but when it is followed up by angst-ridden scenes like when our robo-yakuza wonders if he's still human or is grieving over an unwanted death, the pathos just isn't there. Any degree of emotion is eradicated by the slapstick content.
Robo-yakuza falls in love with his idol's grieving girlfriend, & she falls for him. She could have accepted him as a robot with a big pecker, but when she sees her dead lover's demon-tattoo grafted onto robo-yakuza's back, she knows she can never forget her lost love in the arms of her new composite lover. So she leaves him & goes on a revenge-raid of her own, which doesn't go well for her; Miike really blew it not having her kill a bunch of guys before they take her down, but she's no Red Peony Gambler (one of the great girl-yakuza characters of the classic era of yakuza-eiga), she's just a weak girly-girl & its too easy to take a knife away from her, tie her up, & gang-rape her. Miike only rarely has interesting women characters in his films, indeed he generally has a faggoty attitude with no place for women, & Full Metal Yakuza sure wasn't going to be an exception to that.
So the film is nothing special & it did not require a director of Miike's potential genius. He does not make more of it than it would've been otherwise; indeed, by right of wanting it to be a comedy Miike probably makes it less effective (if somewhat more novel) than it would've been from a director who can follow a script without mucking it up for laughs. Still, if you want to laugh at bloody mayhem, this is the show, & since V Cinema is supposed to be kinda crappy, Full Metal Yakuza delivers exactly what is expected.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl