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Full Metal Yakuza (Miike Takashi 1997)


Full Metal Yakuza
[Full Metal Gokudo]

Genre: Extreme Sci-Fi Yakuza Action

review in one breath

Full Metal Yakuza is a very effective blend of yakuza tale, science fiction and real comedy. The main character is Hagane Kensuke (played by former "Kodomo Band" rock star Ujiki Tsuyoshi), a young yakuza initiate whose good-natured, over-sensitive demeanor make him perhaps the most inept yakuza to hit the streets of Japan. When Hagane's child-like admiration for a yakuza strong man places him smack in the middle of a yakuza power struggle and betrayal, he is literally shot into pieces and considered dead. But Hagane is put back together and revived by a quirky, yet well hung mad scientist. When Hagane awakes, he realizes that he is now an assemblage of human and robotic parts with a variety of powers and strengths well beyond those of normal humans. As a Full Metal Yakuza Hagane can find solace in only one thing, seeking vengeance on those who had betrayed him.

Hagane's exploits, both before and after his makeover, are nothing short of hilarious and seem truly brilliant given the time-frame and budget this film was allotted (as an "Original Video"). The pre-transformed Hagane is subject to a continuous string of bitch-slaps and poundings, not from yakuza thugs, but from little old ladies, high school boys, and a 20-something young woman fed up with the under-performance of Hagane's little, well, you know. Once reconstructed by the truly bizarre "self-proclaimed genius scientist", all of the previous problems fade away (including his little, well, you know.). He has a hilarious re-encounter with the group of high school boys in which Hagane is more shocked than anyone at the extent of his new kick-ass capabilities. But this fun kicks into ultra-high gear once Hagane sets his sights on the Yakuza clans which betrayed him. What follows is a non-stop series of samurai-sword hacking, incredible (!) sprays of blood, heads removed from torsos (some of which are then punted great distances!), and all-around mayhem. Holy cow!

Full Metal Yakuza is certainly recommended for Japanese cult cinema fans as a thoroughly entertaining shockfest of the characteristic Miike style. (But remember my well-intentioned warnings regarding the scenes of brutality to women.) As Miike confesses in his interview, the title Full Metal Yakuza conjures up visions of a villian. But I guarantee you will consider this Full Metal Gokudo as nothing less than a pure-hearted and humorous, albeit juvenile killing machine extraordinaire.

Perhaps one final note is required for those who focus more on "director name" than on "year produced". Full Metal Gokudo was released by Miike Takashi straight-to-video in 1997. For the record, that is two full years prior to the first installment of Dead or Alive, and four full years before the production of Ichii the Killer and Happiness of the Katakuris. Following cult success of his earlier video productions (such as Full Metal Gokudo), Miike was later given larger budgets to create theatrical releases such as Dead or Alive, Ichii the Killer, etc. Thus everyone with eyeballs can discern the difference in budgets used for these films. But comparing films solely by budget is actually quite useless to anyone interested in Japanese cinematic genre or niches, unless one simply disregards the formative years of most if not all prominent directors. (Perhaps that is true of any culture's best directors.) Just as with philosophies, ideas, and works of art, the key to their being adequately appreciated lies in an accurate understanding of their historical context.

Included on the Full Metal Yakuza DVD are several valuable extras, not least of which is an English-subtitled interview with the maestro himself, Miike Takashi. This interview provides a lot of interesting background on the development and production of Full Metal Yakuza. The real value for me, however, was Miike's account of the rise of Japan's "Original Video" (straight-to-video) boom which resulted in extraordinary freedom for directors such as Miike to simply experiment and have fun through low-budget productions. This, he relates, in turn shifted to a similar boom in "original" Japanese television productions, which at present have eclipsed Original Video production. This understanding shed a lot of light on how recent Japanese made-for-TV productions such as Shimizu Takashi's Juon almost effortlessly took over the world. Interviews like this really help place some of the pieces so appreciated into an organic, historical whole.

In this interview, Miike Takashi goes into detail regarding how he, in Full Metal Yakuza, wanted to create a "dark hero". He strove to tell a story possessing a degree of complexity which might cause audiences to cry and laugh at the same time. His intent is to create within the viewer an emotional dissonance which makes them ask themselves whether what they are seeing is intended to be humor or not. After watching Full Metal Yakuza, I am quite convinced that audiences will indeed experience this dissonance. There will likely be times the audience laughs (very) loudly and then seconds later becomes ultimately somber.

But if you are familiar with Miike's cinematic worlds, you would be right to expect that this dissonance is between extreme humor and extreme brutality rather than between a height of emotional euphoria and the sudden empathetic mourning of love's blossom lost (whatever that means). While the general tone of Full Metal Yakuza is thoroughly (and ingeniously) humorous, Miike once again lives up to his *controversial* reputation in certain scenes. Undoubtedly Miike fans are well beyond tolerance to the mainstream notions of "cinematic brutality" since we have learned to trust Miike and his ability to make a roomful of severed limbs a comedic shock (eg, in Ichii the Killer). Thus this type of "brutality" would be incapable of creating the type of real dissonance Miike is aiming for. Instead, he creates dreadful scenes of brutailty against women which will leave indignant any soul possessing even an ounce of chivalry or sympathy. In other words, Miike is determined to bring even those fans quite familiar with his work to the point of laughing and crying in the same breath.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness

Relatively early example of director Miike Takashi's humorous yet controversial method of comedic shock cinema. This film certainly has the prerequisite degree of sword flailing, limb-hacking and beheadings expected by any respectable Miike fan. Here, the depictions of sheer brutality to women puts this over the top. Some ripe nudity and (consensual) coupling (with a girl who then proceeds to kicks Hagane's butt for under-performance). The majority of onscreen "sex" would be more accurately categorized under the violence heading, and includes, but is not limited to extreme bondage and rape. (okay, and some necrophilia. There. I said it.) Whereas Miike's explicit intention was to emotionally confuse viewers, this certainly succeeds. Four parts wonderful, ingenious humor. One part sheer, unadulterated brutality. This early Miike film easily demonstrates his soon-to-be polished niche of shock gore comedy.

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