About twenty minutes or so into action/thriller Yakuza Princess, I became convinced that it had to be based on a graphic novel. The primary reason for this assumption is the complex lore and bloody, visceral action-violence. It turns out the film is, indeed, based upon Danilo Beyruth’s Samurai Shiro—if any recent film has felt like a graphic novel come to life, it is Yakuza Princess. Teaming up heartthrob Jonathan Rhys Meyers with talented pop singer MASUMI, both in supreme badass mode, is a winning combination that proves a joy to watch.
Osaka, Japan circa “20 years ago”—a huge massacre occurs in her village, leaving young Akemi (MASUMI) orphaned and alone. This cold open is mean and merciless, but it skillfully sets the tone for what will follow. Back in present day, Shiro (Meyers) wakes up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, hooked up to beeping machines and hospital monitors. He has no memory of where he is or how he got there. This does not stop Shiro from unleashing fury upon all the medical professionals, at least before they are forced to sedate him. Eventually, Shiro gets out of the hospital and begins his pursuit of Akemi, armed with the knowledge from a local antiques shop.
We catch back up with Akemi: she is now a young woman training with her sensei. She must “push through her grief and anger” if Akemi is to graduate beyond apprentice. A legendary katana sword will change everything for Akemi. Apparently, she is the heiress for half of the Yakuza crime syndicate. This news creates a schism within the Yakuza, and Akemi is forced to team up with amnesiac Shiro. Together, after a series of gunshots and a severed hand, Akemi and Shiro flee. They are forced to concoct a game plan to safely protect Akemi from the steel grip of the Yakuza.
From the second Akemi and Shiro join forces, Yakuza Princess had my full attention. There is a crazy amount of exposition the movie forces one to trudge through in order to arrive at this destination. When we finally do get there, though, it is well worth the wait. Each character gets ample time to leave an imprint via the intensity of the action. While I did not have overt issues with the film, I do wish the narrative was a bit more clear and concise. The final act is explosive, but lacks the satisfying bite of other revenge thrillers. Still, if you are in the mood for graphic-novel style action hijinks, Yakuza Princess could be just what the doctor ordered.
Yakuza Princess screened at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Slice your way through the competition when Yakuza Princess releases in theaters on Friday, September 3rd.