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Review © Alex Apple , 2004.

Directed by Takashi Miike, 1997, 101 min. starring Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Takeshi Caesar, Ren Osugi and Tomorowo Taguchi.

Another week, another Takashi Miike movie. The man must churn out movies in his sleep – the amount of DVDs that have landed on Snowblood Apple's doormat these last few months must certainly outnumber all other movies we’ve received put together. Granted, this is probably in no small part due to Welsh distributor Artsmagic's sterling work in releasing even the more obscure items in his back catalogue to an English speaking audience for the first time. As regular visitors to the site might realise, we here at Snowblood Apple don't necessarily share the opinion of other reviewers that Miike is a lunatic visionary god who can do little wrong; indeed, we have serious misgivings about some of the themes (not least, misogyny and homophobia) which seem to run deep through many of his films. He's also, of course, the King Of Trash, and while this can sometimes be a good thing (Ichi The Killer springs to mind), at other times it can be just totally infuriating and unsatisfying (Visitor Q, Happiness of the Katakuris).

Perhaps fortunately, Full Metal Yakuza (or Full Metal Gokudoh) falls between the two extremes. Reputedly made by Miike after he picked up a script lying around whilst he was waiting for a meeting and realising he just had to make it, loosely the plot is based on 1987's Hollywood blockbuster Robocop. Nevertheless, in terms of Japanese cinema, what emerges is both a knowing nod to Tetsuo: The Iron Man (even down to the casting) and a dry run for some of the ideas later featured in Koroshiya Ichi.

Synopsis

Kensuke Hagane (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) is a hopeless Yakuza. Only staying on because the thought of his fallen idol, the Mutsumi boss Tosa, has inspired him for seven years, after a brief chance encounter just before Tosa was jailed for cutting off the arm of the Nakane boss (played quite (h)armlessly... sorry... by our favourite ubiquitous actor of the moment Ren Osugi) in a turf war. But in the intervening seven years, Hagane has hardly flourished. He's a coward, refusing to adequately threaten locals for protection money, chickens out when about to do a hit, is impotent, and, as his lover Naomi points out, can't even get a proper Yakuza tattoo. He's only stayed on because he wants to live up to the ideal of Tosa. The other gang members really can't stand him, not least his partner in crime Junji, who sits back and watches as Hagane is harangued, hit and humiliated by a gang of local hoodlums only too happy to show the pusillanimous gangster just who is boss, and who isn't.

Nevertheless, when Tosa is finally released, it's Hagane who's assigned to pick him up from jail and help transport him to his new villa. In the midst of a power struggle in the new Mushashi Union, the result of a merger between the Mutsumi and Nakane clans, there's talk that the current Mutsumi boss Yomo's going to stand down in favour of Tosa – which is not pleasing the Nakane side of the accord one bit. As Tosa and Hagane are dropped outside the villa – and their lift ominously pulls away – out of the building come two men, who gun the pair down. Both fall, but only after Tosa stands in front of Hagane in a vain attempt to protect him.

Hagane awakes to find himself in some sort of workshop; as he scans what's around him, he spots a blood-stained bathtub full of body parts. Strangely, whenever he moves, there's a mechanical whhhrrr noise. Freaked out, he escapes on a bicycle he finds, only to realise that suddenly he's able to pedal very, very, very fast and therefore unable to stop when a car pulls out in front of him... Tumbling over the bonnet, he lands in front of the very same hoodlums who beat him up before, only this time the tables are turned as the ruffians realise that this time their foe is not quite so easily vanquished, not least when one tries to hit Hagane over the head with a scaffolding pole, only to have it bend over his head...

All this activity however excites Hagane too much and his body starts to smoke and short-circuit, just before he loses consciousness. When he wakes up again, he's back in the workshop, his head on one table, his body on another... Mad / genius scientist Genpaku Hiragana (Tomorowo Taguchi) introduces himself, says he's revived Hagane from black-market body parts and bits of Tosa, and starts to train him in the way of superheroism. In a stunningly silly scene, Hagane is shown the sideways shuffle to deflect gunfire, and also how to use his X-Ray vision, superhuman hearing, super-strength... and how to develop a taste for metal, which is the only substance which will provide him with nourishment. But while Hiragana wants Hagane to use his new-found powers for good, Hagane is far more interested in getting revenge for his and Tosa's assassinations... How will Hagane reconcile his new-found invulnerability with the knowledge that there's an awful lot of Tosa still in him? Will Hiragana let him seek revenge, or simply concentrate on making a brand new female Pinku-Robo? And how the hell is the Musashi Union going to cope with Hagane's, er, unique brand of retribution?

There's no doubt that Full Metal Yakuza is amazingly silly, and deliberately so. This movie is so trashy it’s unbelievable, but really it doesn't matter, because in this case that's exactly what Miike has set out to do. Hagane is such a cartoon character that it’s impossible to suspend disbelief, but nevertheless it's an entertaining, if occasionally borderline irritating, performance, Ujiki coming into his own when portraying the somewhat inadequate superhuman that he's become.

Miike's blend of Yakuza flick and revenge movie (mixed in with a liberal dose of parody of Hollywood cliché) actually works reasonably well here; there's not much in the way of his typically heavy-handed shock tactics, though there's the usual streak of hyper-violence and somewhat rubbery gore. Unnecessarily, there's a rather unpleasant rape scene three-quarters of the way through, and as usual in Miike movies the (two) female characters are underdeveloped and, really, little more than sex objects for the male leads.

What’s interesting here is the fact that Miike is not only parodying Robocop here, but also giving a knowing nod to Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo not just in the plot line (man turns into metal mechanoid) but also the casting: Hiragana is played by Tomorowo Taguchi, who was the lead in Tetsuo. Equally, the ideas which Miike would flesh out later in Ichi The Killer are all here – not least the notion of an inadequate transformed into a vicious killer out for revenge.

As it's a V-cinema work, Full Metal Yakuza is not very visually strong. Clearly made on a budget of tuppence, the effects are pretty woeful though it's not a big deal. Miike has never been a particularly visual director in my opinion anyway, but he can tell a good story clearly, and that's just what he's done here. If you're prepared to switch off your brain for 100 minutes, Full Metal Yakuza is a trashy extravaganza and, it has to be said, one of the better Miike films we've seen in a while.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Violence: 8/10
Sex: -10/10
Knob Gags: 1 (but it's a big 'un - arf!)
Tsuyoshi Ujiki: someone tell this man smoking's bad for him

Films in a Similar Style: Ichi The Killer, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Robocop

*** Fine for post-pub viewing, beer in hand ***

Full Metal Yakuza Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2004

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Takashi Miike
Ren Osugi
Takeshi Caesar
Tomorowo Taguchi
Tsuyoshi Ujiki

Links

http://www.artsmagic.co.uk/fullmetalyakuza/- Artsmagic provided the DVD used for this review. You can see their page about the movie here.
http://www.destroy-all-monsters.com/fullmetalyakuza.shtml - Destroy All Monsters liked the film too
http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/fullmeta.shtml - Midnight Eye do their usual pretentious review of a movie that was not meant to withstand such scrutiny, but end up liking it anyway
http://www.gotterdammerung.org/film/reviews/f/full-metal-yakuza.html - positive review with some screenshots
http://www.dvdanswers.com/index.php?r=0&s=2&c=1013 - a detailed review from DVD Answers
http://www.kfccinema.com/reviews/kaiju/fullmetalyakuza/fullmetalyakuza.html - KFC go a little overboard, in my opinion, but they make some good points
http://www.bizarreingredients.co.uk/japan/a/full/full.htm - Bazz makes some useful comments and gives us some nice big screengrabs too
http://www.jpreview.com/Reviews%20HTML/reviews/fmy.html - as ever, jpreview.com come up with an incisive review

this review (c) Mandi Apple Collingridge, 2004. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002, 2003, 2004 M. Apple Collingridge, A. Collingridge, Larry D Burns. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site.