Eastern genre cinema is now available throughout the world; it’s popularity lying with the fact that, on the whole, films from Japan, Korea and China are wildly inventive and original. Movies such as THE RING, DARK WATER, and BATTLE ROYALE are all huge hits on the home DVD market. Unfortunately, it has meant that Hollywood (being wildly uninventive and plagiaristic) have been embracing these movies and remaking them for feeble minded Western audiences.
One prolific filmmaker who has, to this point, escaped such treatment is Takashi Miike, as his films are often intolerably cruel and downright baffling for mainstream viewers. Perhaps, the one movie that lends itself to the remake treatment is AUDITION, a movie that many considered over hyped and a big disappointment. This was a film introduced at the London Frightfest, as being one that had ambulances on standby in Japan due to the shockingly gruesome finale, but I personally found the film overlong and lacking in suspense, and nowhere near as shocking as the likes of FLOWERS OF FLESH AND BLOOD. Not that I let any of this put me off Miike, in fact I have been avidly dipping into his extensive collection ever since I saw AUDITION, and feel that none of his other films have let me down in the same way, despite their convolutive plots.
Miike is most renowned for his Yakuza films and few of them are conventional. The likes of FUDOH THE NEXT GENERATION, and DEAD OR ALIVE initially appear to take linear paths but, all of a sudden, Takashi is liable to throw dumbfounding elements of hyper-unreality into the mix and leave the viewer picking their jaw up off the ground. After the hype of AUDITION it was with his wild and ultra-violent 2001, Yakuza splatter fest, ICHI THE KILLER that had both the newspapers and the BBFC up in arms. There was no hype here either, Takashi had, as promised, delivered one of the most blood drenched doses of violence that has been committed to celluloid in recent years. The likes of KILL BILL pales into insignificance at the blood drenched trail that this film left in its wake. The BBFC enforced 11 cuts from ICHI truncating the British video version by 3 minutes and 15 seconds (and forcing me to surreally sit through the uncut version in Japanese with no subs).
Since then, it appears that many a label is fighting for the rights to release his other films in the UK for the first time. That is a very good thing too, as otherwise we would not have had the chance to walk into the shops and pick up THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, and revel in the sheer lunacy of the first all-singing and all-dancing zombie musical. If you want to discover Miike’s universe, FULL METAL YAKUZA (aka, FULL METAL GOKUDO) serves as a comparatively simplified introduction to his work. This was a quickly shot film that was made strictly for the video market and to be fair this does show at times. Yet, it is also an enjoyable film that will have you smirking one second and grimacing the next. Takashi has with FMY gone and made a humorous movie in a serious manner and by doing so will confuse the audiences emotions.
We are introduced to wannabe Yakuza, Keisuke Hagane (played by Japanese rock star Tsuyoshi Ujiki), seen scrubbing the gang’s floors and worshiping boss Tosa, a tattoo covered hulk, who takes to the streets and dismembers the leader of a rival gang with a Samurai sword. Tosa is jailed for 7 years but he has entrusted Keisuke with looking after his wallet and paved the way for him to become a real mobster. Unfortunately, Keisuke is crap at the job and is almost carved up by a sweet little old lady with a knife, and wets himself in dangerous situations. He doesn’t seem able to do much in the bedroom department either; he is mocked by a call-girl due to his small penis, and as a final injustice is beaten up by a bunch of kids. When Tosa is released from jail he is taken to a hideaway retreat, but as in most of Mikke’s Yakuza films, the clans are a bit on the dishonest side and Tosa finds that he has been set up for assassination. He is cut down in a hail of bullets whilst trying to protect the bumbling Keisuke and both die.
Up until this point, the movie flows along nicely and all makes perfect sense. Not for long: as the dead wake and are joined together and forged in metal. The head and brain of Keisuke have been morphed together with his heart and, luckily for him, the penis of Tosa. We now have one entity and a plot that makes no bones that this is now playing as a twisted version of Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP. It would be impossible to have such a Frankensteinian scenario without a mad Doctor, and the camp, latex-clad, Genpaku is as barking as they come. Moments of slapstick comedy are silly in the extreme. Keisuke is part TETSUO and part SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. Encountering the gang of kids proves that Keisuke is no longer a feebly endowed man, but the enhanced-penis gags are on the whole wasted, due to the fact that as with all Japanese movies on-screen appendages are digitally censored.
The FULL METAL YAKUZA, as with all part-man and part-machine creations, is one that is torn between two worlds. All designs on robotic servility are confounded by emotions as the humanity takes precedence forcing ultimate showdown and revenge. The bloodshed that ensues is quite tame when compared to other films of Miike’s oeuvre, but this is mainly due to the comedic aspects within the film. The director isn’t going for out and out shock value this time around, which occasionally results in slow pacing with several scenes overly talkative.
The quality of the release under review is nothing special. At times, the colours appear washed and the film could certainly have looked a lot sharper. The extras themselves are relevant and it is good to see Artsmagic including interviews relating to the film itself.
(It should be noted that Patrick Evans of Artsmagic has since informed us that ’Full Metal Yakuza’ was shot straight onto video and in our opinion the picture quality has been improved from the original master." - Carl T. Ford)
Directed by Takashi Miike
Japanese with English subtitles
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
An Artsmagic DVD release
Digitally enhanced 16:9 anamorphic presentation
FULL METAL YAKUZA