Cine Du Monde
Alongside the genuinely impressive pieces of cinema that make it onto our shores there’s rarely a shortage of low-budget, "so-bad-it’s-good" B-movie fare that has a strange appeal of its own. In the same way that the likes of Quentin Tarantino pay cheeky homage to the exploitation and ‘grindhouse’ cinema of yesteryear, Japan seems to have its own thriving little industry of trashy movies that are big on sex and violence but small on budget or originality and have no qualms about going for the ‘cult following’ market.
One star of this sector of Japanese cinema is Asami Sugiura, who is apparently so well-known in her field that her family name is often left out of her production credits. In the Yakuza Hunter series (the first and second parts also going under the subtitles ‘Final Death Ride Battle’ and ‘Duel in Hell’, respectively) she plays a hard-as-nails fighter also named Asami who, as the title suggests, faces up to the deadly Yakuza in the name of friendship and justice.
Both movies are based around the theme of revenge, which drives Asami to defend the innocent and mercilessly slay the bad guys. In the first, she takes on a former member of her own gang to wrestle control of the neighbourhood from her and a local Yakuza organisation; in the second she’s back in town, taking up the sword for some old friends who are threatened with eviction to make way for a Yakuza-run casino.
A crucial element that makes these two films even remotely enjoyable is the screen presence of Asami herself. Her career so far has comprised almost exclusively of low-budget flicks, but as unsophisticated as these two particular offerings are she strikes a good balance between strongly portraying her character and just having fun with it. In terms of both her appearance and her performance she fits her role here perfectly.
The same sadly can’t be said of Rena Komine’s turn as Junko, the antagonist of the first movie: her performance is so hammed-up that I found it laughable for all the wrong reasons. Otherwise, it’s straight-up stupid fun and the final showdown, in which Asami regroups her all-girl gang and takes on Yakuza henchmen on a riverbank, is as exciting as it is silly. Why do the girls fight in stetsons and what looks like their underwear? Well, why not? It’s that sort of movie.
The ‘big boss’ of the second instalment, Akira (played by Hitomi Miwa), is a better opponent in that she says little, she’s utterly amoral and generally has a very menacing and cool on-screen presence. A fight scene earlier on, before Asami’s showdown with Akira, is also surprisingly well choreographed for a film of this calibre and injects some excitement into the middle portion of the story.
Both Yakuza Hunter outings fare much better when they don’t take themselves seriously; their mis-steps only really occur when they try to play it straight. Between the two, the second outing is guiltier of this: the characterisation centres on the camaraderie of the all-girl gang and their devotion to Asami the first time around, but in the second there’s an unnecessary romance subplot and the rapport between her and an adoptive sister-figure didn’t feel convincing either.
I also got the sense that, in trying to out-do its predecessor, Yakuza Hunters 2 tries too hard in terms of drama and violence. The combat (with the exception of the utterly ridiculous conclusion to the final battle) is an improvement, the antagonist is a match for the heroine in ‘hot-ness’ (flippant and shallow I know, but it really is that kind of movie) but it concerns itself too much with sentimentality and tries to be needlessly dark into the bargain.
That is to say, the main reason why I think that the gore in movies like this is acceptable from the viewer’s point of view is because it’s deliberately theatrical and unrealistic, but also because the violence that’s shown is usually aimed at the villains. This is certainly the case in the first Yakuza Hunters offering – in which the body count is almost completely comprised of bad guys – but in the second there are also women and children who get the sharp end of a sword or, in a particularly gruesome opening scene, a chainsaw. It’s still over-the-top and violent, but is decidedly less fun.
Ultimately, the deciding factor for most of you will be the fact that Asami is in a starring role and whether the UK tagline of “They’re bloody gore-geous!” will make you smile or roll your eyes. I must confess they got both reactions from me, but more of the former than the latter.