Yakuza Deka: The Assassin Review
Sonny Chiba is currently well represented on DVD yet the titles released thus far veer wildly in terms of quality and tone. There’s the delirious madness of Ninja Wars, the James Bond-style shenanigans of Golgo 13, the sentimental morale booster that was The Killing Machine and the more straightforward pleasures of the Streetfighter movies. Yakuza Deka : The Assassin, however, is an altogether different prospect. Whilst sampling elements from all the above at one time or another, it more greatly resembles one of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm flicks or an entry from Russ Meyer’s filmography when he was at his peak.
Not that The Assassin (as the film is perhaps better known) is populated by unfeasibly large breasted women. Rather it has a cheap and cheerful quality as well as a knowingness to its more preposterous characteristics. On the face of it this may be a standard Chiba actioner in which he plays an undercover cop eradicating gang culture and drug smuggling throughout Japan, but such rudimentary details are almost incidental.
The problem is that whilst The Assassin isn’t really a straightforward thriller, it also isn’t entirely certain as to what it should be instead. There’s a flavour of Roger Moore’s Bond entries – complete with a cameo from Asia’s own Richard Kiel, Giant Baba – but the filmmakers never really see it through. Likewise director Yukio Noda presents an off-the-cuff style to the action in a similar manner to his Golgo 13, but The Assassin isn’t rigid enough to be enjoyed on a strictly generic level.
Perhaps then we should look to the film for kitsch appeal. It’s an element which has gone out of fashion as a means of appreciating martial arts cinema as a wider and more respectful distribution of old titles has led to a more serious understanding. Yet in the case of The Assassin it’s certainly applicable. The Matt Helm reference at the start of this review is pretty much spot on as Chiba sports an obscenely ridiculous batch of fashions, is accompanied by some truly horrible lounge music and even entertains a lady friend on a revolving bed à la Austin Powers.
More to the point, such elements are just as exaggerated as they were in the Dean Martin movies and as such The Assassin also comes across as hideously dated. Understandably the over the top manner exists because Noda is going for a piece of comic book escapism, but sadly much of the attendant humour is frustratingly laboured. Save for one decent Charles Bronson gag, the jokes mainly revolve around an absurd bald headed creation with a penchant for body paint. Quite what he’s doing here is never made abundantly clear, though what is certain is the fact that had Suzuki Seijun, the master of oddball Asian thrillers, gotten hold of him and the rest of the material, The Assassin would have been a far more entertaining viewing experience.
As with Optimum’s other Sonny Chiba releases, Yakuza Deka : The Assassin comes with a decent presentation but only basic extras. The film is anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and remains clean throughout. Moreover, technical flaws are minimal whilst the only inconsistencies would appear to be the result of the film’s production rather than any error in the disc’s authoring. As for the soundtrack, we get the film original Japanese mono (spread over the front-two channels and with optional English subs) which sounds as good as we should expect. The various gunshots and explosions come across a little tinny at times, but then this wholly the fault of the film itself and again not to be blamed on the DVD. Otherwise, the audio remains consistently crisp and audible. Indeed, the only disappointment is the extras which are identical to those featured on all of Optimum’s Chiba discs. Thus we find a poster gallery, handful of faded, grainy trailers and a three-page bio for the star.