The films of Takashi Miike are cruel and anarchic; and anyone who has sampled the elliptical and arresting delights of his films such as AUDITION and ICHI THE KILLER will be attuned to the Japanese filmmaker’s haphazard delights herein. For a film dubbed ‘Part Man, Part Machine…All Yakuza,’ it’s clear that FULL METAL YAKUZA takes ROBOCOP as its reference point. But by turning the slick Hollywood sleeper of 1987 inside out, Miike manages to accentuate his qualities as a true maverick.
Wannabe yakuza Hagane – a nervous, bumbling wreck – is resigned to doing domestic chores with his younger brother Junji for the Mutsumi crime family. Idolising heavily tattooed, sword-wielding Tosa, he is honoured when his hero entrusts him to take care of his wallet while he ‘goes away.’ While in town, Tosa says goodbye to his younger girlfriend and massacres several of the rival Nakame clan, and severs the arm of their still-living leader with his sword.
Sentenced to prison, he emerges after seven years to find ever-incompetent Hagane, and is given back his wallet by the now enforcer who still idolises him. When Hagane escorts him out to his hideout, it’s discovered too late that Tosa has been set up: in a hail of bullets, both hero and worshipper are damaged beyond repair…or so it seems. After waking on a stretcher, Hagane walks about town discovering his various super powers, and he beats up a gang who once humiliated him.
Short-circuiting in the rain, he is collected by mad doctor Hiraga, whose pleasure is to “mess around with corpses” to pursue his dream of creating a “robo-man”. Hiraga informs Hagane that he has been rebuilt in a metallic frame with his own brain and much of his body, but with Tosa’s heart, penis and back tattoo. When Hiraga plans to erase his emotions, the powerful but insecure cyborg takes leave so that he can exact revenge wile he still retains a measure of human feeling.
Using his superhuman strength newly developed fighting skills and enhanced vision and hearing, Hanage confronts the duelling Mutsumi and Nakane families, leading to a number of outlandish and bloody massacres.
Altough handed a routine script, Miike should be credited for turning it into something quite subversive. The tension between the original material – i.e. lone gangster-turns-into-cyborg – and the final product is apparent throughout, especially in the early stages. Instead of developing the brooding swordsman into an invincible killing machine, our protagonist is one of the most (deliberately) useless characters in sci-fi / action cinema history. Miike runs him through numerous situations to reduce Hanage to less than zero: as an enforcer, he is scared off by an elderly couple; he bungles a hit job by pissing himself and crying; and is beaten up by obnoxious teenagers. In an interesting construct, he has to be combined with the body parts of a real yakuza (Tosa) in order to function as a Full Metal Yakuza.
FULL METAL YAKUZA is a worthwhile companion piece to Miike’s own gangster epic AGITATOR. As I wrote for sexgoremutants.co.uk in a review of that film, “(it) details an interesting irony in its characterisation. The younger men are typically loyal, honest, and possess integrity; whereas their elders are prone to backstabbing, manipulation and general opportunism… The younger men, therefore, are the anachronisms – idealistic and romantic in a cynical era – while the old codgers are the only men who attempt to adapt to the times.” In FULL METAL, it is the would-be heroism of Hagane that is out of place in a corrupt world. His simple quest for revenge and honour (Tosa tried to save him by shielding him, to no avail, alas) comes across as naïve hero worship, forced romanticism, and a pathetic surrender of his own identity.
Shot on video, FULL METAL is ROBOCOP downgraded into a rough-hewn pastiche. Verhoeven’s commitment to drama was so strong that it allowed us to identify with the robot, but Miike’s ‘version’ won’t let us take the cyborg seriously. Hagane’s tacky, padded armour looks like a campy ‘60s superhero’s, and ROBOCOP’s diet of baby food is inverted when Hagane eats metal to recharge himself: he memorably chews bits from a cereal bowl filled with milk! Most amusing is the departure from the slick violence dished out by the altered patrolman Murphy. Hagane performs a bizarre technique to shield himself from bullets and attack villains. While inverting his shoulder to cover weak spots, he takes dainty stutter steps to manoeuvre him into attacking range, causing even his wound up younger brother to gasp “Eh?” in a mixture of hilarity and disbelief.
With some outrageous scenes of violence – including an extremely inventive suicide method – hard-edged pinku perversity and some striking scenes of carnage, FULL METAL YAKUZA prefigures the unbelievable ICHI THE KILLER, and belies its cheap format with sharp and colourful photography. Miike, as ever, makes some astonishingly abrupt shifts in tone that are nonetheless easy to accept, given the context of the film and our own expectations from him as director: hilarity alternates melancholy without shunning those glued to riveting action. As Hagane, pop star Tsuyosi Ujiki is appropriately wet, and he injects an air of melancholy as the disgruntled, austere cyborg. If we were thankful for ROBOCOP before, we should be doubly so now.
Directed by Takashi Miike
Japanese with English Subtitles
Interview with Takashi Miike
An Artsmagic DVD Release
Region 2 pal
FULL METAL YAKUZA (Part of the Takashi Miike Boxet)