Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Is This War or a Grandfather Scavenger Hunt?
Yakuza Princess is based on the 192-page graphic novel Samurai Shiro by Sao Paulo comic book artist Danilo Beyruth. It's co-written and directed by Austrian filmmaker Vicente Amorim. The Brazilian action thriller is also co-written by three other screenwriters; Kimi Lee, L.G. Tubaldini Jr., and Fernando Toste.
20 years ago in Osaka, Japan, a Japanese family was brutally murdered. In the present day, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a man with no memory (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) wakes up in a hospital bed with sword wounds all over his body. The only thing he remembers is the katana he came in with, which he is drawn to. Meanwhile, it’s Akemi’s (the feature film debut of singer MASUMI) 21st birthday. With the recent death of her grandfather still heavy on her mind, all Akemi wants to do is leave Sao Paulo. But this mystery man and his cursed katana are drawn to Akemi and her family history while the yakuza is hot on their trail in search of the famous and ancient sword known only as the Muramasa blade.
There’s not a lot of information in English regarding the Samurai Shiro graphic novel, but Yakuza Princess seems to at least keep the same tone and story of the source material. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is surprising when he’s first introduced. He has a strong screen presence and generally steals the film at every opportunity. If he doesn’t know any actual martial arts whatsoever, he’s at least somewhat believable with his movements in his action sequences. He also shows quite a bit of his dick in this. It isn’t just a glimpse of full frontal nudity like it’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers walking around for a solid minute and a half with his dick out. It seems like Meyers is completely committed to the role, which makes it more disheartening that it doesn’t really go anywhere.
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MASUMI is a singer turned actress and it shows. She’s a passable actress in most scenes, but struggles with stiff line delivery and constipation face from time to time. The story of the film is sprinkled with seeds of something awesome that are never allowed to grow past being a seedling. Legend says that the Muramasa sword steals the souls of the men it kills. This sword apparently chooses Akemi on her 21st birthday since she is the last of her bloodline. She now rules the Yakuza and has no earthly idea on what to do with such a burden.
The film spirals into lackluster nonsense after the first 30-45 minutes since it can’t really decide who the villain is supposed to be. Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character, Shiro (even though he’s never called this in the film unless it’s brief and or something said in passing), is the most interesting aspect of the film and he’s totally wasted. Yakuza Princess speaks of a war that only partially arrives. The secrets Akemi’s grandfather hid from his family are milked and drawn out for the majority of the film with most of the action, apart from a severed hand sequence and a few throat slices, are in the last half hour of the film. What’s odd is that during the nighttime graveyard sequence, there are some unusual yellowish white bullet trails. It’s like they look like Star Wars lasers or something. They look peculiar and abnormally long and it’s totally noticeable
The action in Yakuza Princess seems to get worse the closer the film gets to its finale. The martial arts sequences seem decent at first, but are nothing more than constant quick cuts in the dark highlighted by CGI blood splatters in the second half of the film. Akemi is aimless and is unable to commit to the yakuza and Shiro is literally just thrown to the side and practically forgotten about by the end of the film. It’s as if Yakuza Princess is building to a sequel that would be far more interesting, but likely will never come because there’s no way this film will be financially or critically successful. It's as if the film purposely squanders its mainstream appeal in a matter of moments.
It’s a shame that Yakuza Princess is as lousy as it is since it has quite a few elements of a solid action thriller going for it. It boils down to feeling like the audience doesn’t get to see enough action in a so-called respectable entry in the genre though. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is one helicopter dick sequence away from being totally awesome in this and taking on the yakuza usually results in something memorable. Unfortunately, Yakuza Princess is carried by a lead star that just doesn’t have enough experience. If there was any sort of fight choreography, it is utterly annihilated by the film’s poor editing. A cool concept and a strong supporting actor aren’t enough to make a sloppy and amateurish action film with very few thrills worthwhile.
© 2021 Chris Sawin