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Yakuza Princess (2021) Review – Fantasia 2021

Based on Danilo Beyruth’s graphic novel “Samurai Shiro” Yakuza Princess takes a familiar story and gives it a new twist by setting it in São Paulo, Brazil. Why there? Because it’s the home to over 1.6 million Japanese and Brazilians of Japanese ancestry, the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. It’s also, like most Brazilian cities, overcrowded and rife with poverty, crime and corruption. What better place to set a film about the Yakuza?

Twenty years ago in Osaka, Japan, we watch a family photo session turn into a massacre as a gunman opens fire, killing everyone. In present-day São Paulo, Shiro (Johnathan Rhys-Meyers, The 12th Man, Black Butterfly) wakes up in the hospital. Badly injured and with no memory of his past. His only possession is an ancient katana.

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Akemi (MASUMI) came to Brazil as a child and has studied under Chiba (Toshiji Takeshima, Scramble) since she was six. She knows nothing of her family beyond her now-deceased grandfather, but that is about to change. Because she’s just turned twenty-one and became heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate. The other half wants her dead, and the only man who can save her may have been sent to kill her.

Yakuza Princess brings strong Japanese elements from the jidaigeki tradition of masters such as Mizoguchi or Kurosawa, the vibrant aesthetics of anime such as Akira and the violence derived from the new Ronin classics by Takashi Miike and Takeshi Kitano.

Vicente Amorim director of Yakuza Princess

Director Vicente Amorim (The Division, Motorrad) and co-writers Tubaldini Shelling (The Dreamseller), Kimi Lee and Fernando Toste (Aurora) take their time setting the story up, cutting back and forth between Brazil and Japan and slowly feeding us information about all of the players. The parts dealing with the Yakuza are interesting, and those who like male eye candy will enjoy Shiro’s nude stroll through the hospital. But Akemi is a dull character, and her portrayal by MASUMI, who is apparently a singer trying her hand at acting, is equally bland. I couldn’t wait for her to stop trying to act and start fighting.

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They also start the violence off slowly with a brawl in a club between Akemi and some drunken dbags that gets out of hand in a rather literal way. And from that point on, Yakuza Princess becomes a chase across Brazil to solve the enigmas of Akemi’s heritage and Shiro’s past. And to untangle the legend of the Muramasa, a katana that is said to eat the souls of its victims.

Yakuza Princess is a paranoid thriller punctuated with bloody action sequences. And that action is indeed bloody, heads are sliced off, skulls split and bloody bullet hits abound. As it goes on it’s obvious that nobody is who, or what, they claim to be and even the dead have their secrets. By the film’s end, it’s nearly impossible to know who to trust.

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While Yakuza Princess works as a thriller, I was really disappointed by one thing. For all the film’s publicity hypes it, the Brazilian setting really doesn’t add anything to the film. The scenes in São Paulo are all shot in the Japanese part of the city and, to my eyes at least, could have taken place in any city in Japan.

Yakuza Princess makes its world premiere as part of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. You can check here for details and ticket information. The film will be released by Magnolia Pictures and Magnet Releasing In theatres and On-Demand on September 3rd. It sees release in the UK on the 13th via Signature Entertainment. Vortex Media has Canadian rights but hasn’t announced a release date.

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