Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Yakuza Zombie (2001)

These days, zombies are everywhere, and back in 2001 they even invaded the Yakuza.  Since I missed Halloween, the subject of this Yakuza Film Rundown is fittingly Yakuza Zombie (実録外伝 ゾンビ極道), directed by Sasaki Hirohisa. This is also my entry to the Wildgrounds 2010 Japanese blogathon, since this time around it involves Japanese cinema.

Ultra-low budget and presumably straight-to-video, Yakuza Zombie does serve as a worthwhile shot of comedic junk food for a slow day, and despite being low-budget junk food, it still manages to put together a respectable cast, including Sugata Shun (Ichi the Killer, Kill Bill, The Last Samurai, and Graveyard of Honor), Ozawa Hitoshi (Boiling Point, Dead or Alive, and Gozu), and Ehara Shu (Dead or Alive, Score).

The Plot.

Yakuza Zombie opens with an introduction to a mysterious Yakuza graveyard deep in the forest, and a story of the baddest Yakuza of them all, Naruo Ryuuji (shown in cut scenes played by Ozawa Hitoshi).  Naruo Ryuuji was a fearless killer who eventually got into heroin and, exactly like Ishimatsu Rikuo in Takashi Miike's Graveyard of Honor, eventually leaps to his death from the top of a prison, claiming he'll be back.  I'm assuming this is a reference to real life crazy Yakuza Ishikawa Rikio, whom the original Graveyard of Honor was based on.  It's established that the corpse of the fierce Yakuza Ryuuji is buried in the graveyard beneath a marker with the Japanese characters "Jingi" (Honor), and then we are taken to the modern day.

Our zombie tale starts with middle-aged bumbling loser Oba Kei'ichi (also played by Ozawa Hitoshi), a member of the Mishima yakuza gang, not to mention the perennial butt of jokes and ridicule from his Yakuza compatriots.  Oba's boss, Miyamoto Kenji (played by one of my top five yakuza film actors, Sugata Shun), is no less forgiving of Oba's shortcomings as a yakuza, but doesn't seem to know what to do with him.  Miyamoto himself is a tad bumbling, and doesn't seem to know exactly what he's doing at any given moment, and fortunately Sugata Shun gives the character of Miyamoto a touch of comedic flair that helps float the movie.

When things start to go bad and a gang war seems to be on the horizon, Oba decides to flee with his pregnant deaf wife Kaori (as if being pregnant wasn't enough), but they are caught in the act of fleeing, and Oba is forced into assassinating the head of the rival Kawabata gang in return for his wife.  He attacks the yakuza boss in a hot spring with a knife, killing him, (in a particularly good assassination scene) however he is double crossed by Miyamoto, who has him gunned down on the spot.  Oba's friend Takada, played by Ehara Shu, is forced to take Oba's body and bury it in the creepy old Yakuza graveyard, and this is where the problems start.  Takada starts digging up Naruo Ryuuji's old grave, and a creepy old lady appears, warning him not to bury anyone in Ryuuji's grave.  Finding herself ignored by the Yakuza (and rightly so), she eventually attacks him, and Takada panics and kills her with his knife, and buries them both in Ryuuji's grave.  Her spraying blood soaks Naruo Ryuuji's "Jingi" gravestone with a foreboding splash.

All of the blood apparently awakens Naruo Ryuuji's restless soul, and he reanimates Oba's corpse.  Oba is in there somewhere, but for the moment, Ryuuji  is in control, and the zombie breaks the surface of the grave, and climbs out, ready to make the people who double crossed him pay.  The Yakuza plans didn't seem to have a contingency for a zombie attack.  The now indestructible Oba zombie is going to go on the warpath using his hands, knives, guns, and baseball bats to clean up the Yakuza.  A comparison could be made here between this movie and Takashi Miike's 1997 film Full Metal Yakuza - a bumbling Yakuza is killed and then reanimated into a vengeance wreaking machine.  And since Full Metal Yakuza came first, I guess there is a chance that some liberties were taken with the idea for Yakuza Zombie.

The one thing going for Yakuza Zombie is the acting - frankly everyone is great, granted Ozawa doesn't do much acting after the first 20 minutes beyond herkey-jerkey staggering and croaking out lines as a zombie (so he really isn't able to show off his acting chops, which is too bad since per the Japanese Wikipedia, apparently his portrayals of Yakuza are so realistic that young Yakuza are shown his films as sort of educational videos) .  But for a straight to video B-movie, the actors seem to take things serious enough for it to work, but not so serious as to make an already ridiculous plot ludicrous (the end result being a horror/comedy/crime drama).  All of the yakuza film conventions are followed, and the non-zombiefied parts are squarely in the Yakuza film genre, and if you like typical scenes of groups of Yakuza arguing and plotting in their offices, this movie delivers.  Lots of typical Yakuza dialogue and scenes for any fan of the genre.

Normally this is about where I pick out the biggest WTF moment, but in this case most of the movie is just one big WTF moment.  That being said, the confrontation between zombie Oba and Takada near the end, set to a goofy feel-good guitar track, was, well, goofy.

The Violent Rundown. 

As usual I put my sanity on the line to tally up the violence (which I'm sure I'll do something with at some point), and although it was tough to count since you can shoot, beat, and stab a zombie all day long to no real effect, I came up with as best a count as I could.  The result is: Once scene of hardcore drug use, four scenes of violence against women (mostly slapping and strangling, and one possible rape - it's not terribly clear), four stabbings (Knives also played a big part in this movie), four beatings, at least two fights, and about ten or so shootings, and two broken necks.

The Final Verdict.

Yakuza Zombie is sort of a cross between a horror/comedy, and a straight Yakuza film that happens to have a zombie appear every now and then.  So it's safe to say that if you like zombies, or if you like Yakuza films, or if you are one of those people who just have to see every Japanese movie you can get your hands on no matter how bad, this one might be for you.  It really doesn't measure up to the other four Yakuza films I've reviewed so far, so I have to rank it at the bottom of the list.  However, to try and give it some perspective, I did find it marginally better than the aptly titled Junk, which was also a Yakuza vs. Zombie movie of sorts (in which Ehara Shu also had a part) - albeit more horror and less Yakuza themes.  Yakuza Zombie currently isn't available in the USA outside of the grey market vendors, so unless you are one of those obsessive types listed above, you probably don't need to burn the calories to find it.  After all, I watched it twice for this review, and I'm probably never going to watch it again.  But it did have enough redeeming qualities for me to not need back the 87x2 minutes two viewings took from me - and hey, I'll give anything with Sugata Shun a chance.

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