19th Aug2021

Fantasia 2021: ‘Yakuza Princess’ Review

by Jim Morazzini

Stars: Masumi, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Eijiro Ozaki, Jonathan Rhys Meyers | Written by Vicente Amorim, Kimi Lee, Tubaldini Shelling, Fernando Toste | Directed by Vicente Amorim

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 as a family photo session turn into a massacre as a gunman opens fire, killing everyone. In Present day São Paulo Shiro (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers; The 12th Man, Black Butterfly) wakes up in the hospital. Badly injured and with no memory of his past. His only possession an ancient katana.

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.

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. 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. 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.

While Yakuza Princess works as a thriller I was 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.

***½ 3.5/5

Yakuza Princess screens as part of this year Fantasia Film Festival. The film will be released by Magnolia Pictures and Magnet Releasing in theatres and On-Demand in the US on September 3rd; whilst Signature Entertainment will release the film in the UK on September 13th.

Review originally posted on Voices From the Balcony.

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