Co-written and co-directed by Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi, the former probably best known to western audiences as the star of Versus and Battlefield Baseball, Nikkatsu imprint Sushi Typhoon's latest offering is Yakuza Weapon. When the film begins, a gangster named Shozo Iwaki (Sakaguchi) is, with his henchmen, wandering through a jungle beating up bad guys and detonating landmines with no threat of injury or concern for self preservation. When this particular skirmish is over, Shozo learns that his father (Akoji Maro), the head of the Yakuza family he's a member of back in Japan, has been assassinated by members of a rival gang. He and his men head back to Japan as soon as possible where they pay a visit to the old headquarters only to learn that it's now the home of a loan shark operation being run by his late father's former right hand man, Kurawaki (Shingo Tsurumi).
A battle ensues, but it's interrupted by the arrival of Sister Nayoko (Mei Kurokawa), the woman that Shozo had promised to marry upon his return from his mercenary work in the jungle. Now that he's back in town, she intends to make him honor his commitment and will not take no for an answer. Kurawaki, however, sees in her arrival the key to his escape and he takes her hostage, but not before both he and Shozo get seriously injured during their fight. Both men make it out alive, but just barely and soon enough undergo some radical surgical treatments to alter their bodies into living weapons so that they can settle their dispute once and for all.
Sort of a cross between Robocop and old fashioned slapstick comedies like those made by The Three Stooges or even Charlie Chaplin, Yakuza Weapon is maybe not so surprisingly based on a popular manga series by Ken Ishikawa (creator of Getter Robo). The film wears its comic book origins plainly on its sleeve, seemingly far more content to go completely over the top than worry about realism and the movie is all the better for it. Of course, the plot line is obviously having fun with the clichés and standards of the ever popular Yakuza genre made popular by filmmakers as varied as Kinji Fukasaku and Takashi Kitano over the decades and it stays within the confines of that genre - but just barely. This is, after all, a movie where the hero undergoes surgery to have a Gatling Gun replace his arm and a rocket launcher built into his kneecap so that he can settle the score with the bad guy, who is also more man than machine and who is using his mental powers to control an army of thugs.
Not quite as deliriously gory as earlier Sushi Typhoon films (though hardly lacking in onscreen carnage or gooey, gory blood and guts), Yakuza Weapon makes up for that with a fun story and a convincingly cocky performance from Sakaguchi in the lead. This is basically an extension of the ultra cool character he played in Versus, as Kurawaki is slick, flippant, and seemingly immune to pain for the most part. He'll enjoy a smoke while kicking your ass and he'll make it look easy. That's not to say that the film is perfect, however, as it runs about twenty minutes longer than it needs to and it takes a little too long getting to the point where Kurawaki has been surgically augmented to the point where he becomes the titular weapon. The film is hampered by an obviously low budget, so those effects, which aren't quite a constant but which are certainly very frequent, often times look a little more unrealistic than you might want. The flip side of that coin is that as unrealistic as they are, they're in keeping with the film's over the top style.
When you consider that Sakaguchi and company shot this film in fourteen days, you can easily overlook some of its flaws, particularly when, mistakes or no, the movie gets more right than wrong. If you don't need to take your gangster movies too seriously and enjoy the odd dash of hyper-violence now and then, this oddball piece of 'splatstick' turns out to be a whole lot of good, goofy fun.
Yakuza Weapon was shot on high definition video and the AVC encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p presentation showcases the movie in its original aspect ratio. The image is as clean as you'd expect though it has a very artificial look at times, no thanks to the copious amount of goofy CGI that is used throughout the movie and the fact that the whole thing has a very soft look to it. This all makes sense in the context of the comic book world where the film takes place, however - the movie obviously isn't going for realism. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts to note despite the fact that the movie is on a 25GB disc, and black levels are generally strong and deep. Contrast is properly set and while it doesn't take an eagle-eyed viewer to notice periodic instances of banding and aliasing, these problems are minor and overall this is quite a good transfer - but yeah, it's on the soft side to be sure, even by the standards of other Sushi Typhoon releases that have hit the format over the last few months.
Audio options are supplied in Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and in Japanese language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with optional subtitles available in English only. The Japanese lossless surround sound mix is definitely the way to go here, it sounds very good. The track spreads things out nicely during the action scenes and adds a bit more depth to the mix where you'd want it to - you'll really notice a lot of activity during the shoot out sequences, especially once that built-in machine gun starts rattling away. Obviously the 2.0 track doesn't have the range or the directionality of the 5.1 mix, nor is it as strong sounding but it's there for those who want it. Regardless of which option you go for, dialogue is well balanced as are effects and the film's score and there aren't any real problems here. The English subs are free of any obvious typos and are easy to read.
The main extra on the disc is a forty-six minute Behind The Scenes featurette in which the film's producer, Yoshinori Chiba, gives us the low down on what this whole Sushi Typhoon imprint is about, the spirit behind this and other movies in the line and more. From there we get to see a few of the key scenes from the movie as they were being shot, with some interesting effects footage and random on set footage spaced in around some interview clips. It's a fairly well put together piece that offers up some good information at a good pace and with a sense of humor.
Additionally, there are roughly twelve minutes of deleted scenes included here as well as some test footage clips, all of which are actually interesting enough (and frequently weird enough) that you'll want to spend the time to sift through them. Also worth checking out is the original Takuzo Weapon Short Film that was inspired by the feature length picture. This fifteen minute short is a fun accompanying piece to the feature version and it's very much been made in the same lunatic spirit. A few trailers are also included. All of the extras are presented in high definition. Menus and chapter stops are also included and as this is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack release, a standard definition DVD disc is also included featuring the same extra features.
Yakuza Weapon isn't any sort of masterpiece but it is a fun diversion, an entertaining blend of action and over the top humor that effectively parodies the Yakuza genre that obviously inspired it. Sakaguchi and company all appear to be having a good time here, and that is, to a certain extent a bit infectious. Well-Go USA's Blu-ray looks decent but sounds even better and offers up some quality extras as well. If this isn't something that's going to have broad, mass appeal it's still recommended for those with an appreciation for the absurd.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.