‘Yakuza Princess’ Review: Crime, Amnesia and Ancient Swords

You know this movie isn’t kidding around from its opening scene. Set in Osaka “20 years ago,” the blue-tinted sequence depicts a solemn ceremony broken up by bloody gun assassinations, culminating with a young boy taking a bullet in the back of his neck. So when I say “isn’t kidding around,” what I mean is “wants to impress you with the crass opportunism of its violence.”

Based on a graphic novel, “Yakuza Princess” is not a Japanese film; it’s a Brazilian one. The director is Vicente Amorim and the graphic novel, called “Samurai Shiro,” is by Danilo Beyruth. Much of the action takes place in São Paulo, which has one of the largest Japanese expatriate communities in the world. The Japanese pop musician Masumi (who never appears at all comfortable in her role) plays Akemi, who is newly 21 in that Brazilian city and living an ordinary life.

At the same time, in Osaka, the Yakuza soldier Takeshi (Tsuyoshi Ihara) is on a hunt that involves him blowing people’s brains out. Back in São Paulo, a hospitalized amnesiac white man breaks out of his medical situation, taking a very shiny (and noisy) ancient sword with him. (The character is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, his face scarred up like Karloff’s version of Frankenstein’s monster.)

It seems inevitable that this group must somehow form a family. OK, not that, but yes, their paths intersect because — of course — Akemi was the sole survivor of that opening massacre. And Takeshi was somehow related and … well, it’s all pretty complicated and not terribly relevant, because fraught chases, frantic fights and various beheadings are really what the movie is all about.

The cynical pro forma luridness “Yakuza Princess” grinds out suggests that sensationalist cinema, or at least its most ostensibly mainstream iteration, is currently depleted of resources.

Yakuza Princess
Rated R for oodles and oodles of violence. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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