Yakuza Hunters - The Ultimate Battle Royale Review
Several years after being taken away from her gang and left for dead, Asami (Asami Sugiura) emerges from the ashes and returns to her home town in a bid to exact vengeance upon her friend turned traitor Junko (Rena Komine). Finding her old friends safeguarded in the home of a local doctor, Asami quickly learns that they’ve been in hiding from the Shoryu Yakuza led by Murakawa (Jiro Sato), who had used Junko in order to set up a drug smuggling ring. But Junko has her sights set on being the number one crime boss in town...
Utilising the best of their current resources and abilities, Asami and her friends set out to arm themselves as they prepare to face the ultimate confrontation.
Directed by Kazushi Nakadaira - based upon a 20-minute short he made alongside Shinichi Okuda - Yakuza Hunters was originally intended to be a trilogy of films but was ultimately condensed into two parts, the first of which is an unapologetic homage to Toei’s bad girl cinema series of the seventies. The plotting itself is minimalistic in its employment of the kind of narrative devices that were regurgitated by the Sukeban and Zubeko Bancho films; downtrodden delinquents rising against their oppressors to what would culminate in a bloody showdown waged between blades, only it stands out far less as a commentary on the changing patterns of society during what was arguably a far more important transitional period. Not that it matters really.
As homage’s go, Nakadaira’s first feature is certainly a nice enough throwback; kitsch in design and confident with its genre references. A deliciously funky soundtrack of seventies grooves permeates a bloody air of female empowerment and revenge thrills, with spaghetti western motifs and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour (pinkie appendages stored in Asami’s bullet holster being a highlight) that the aforementioned Zubeko Bancho flicks enjoyed over other Toei features of similar ilk.
Unfortunately - and as unfair as it may seem to compare - Nakadaira, who takes on writing, editing and directing duties, doesn’t have nearly the keen sense of pacing that the likes of Norifumi Suzuki and Shunya Ito had, resulting in a 90-minute feature that really shouldn’t feel as padded as it does. Certain scenes serve little to no purpose at all in advancing the plot, while others take far too long in establishing their presence. Yakuza Hunters awkwardly drifts between the highly energetic and downright lethargic at times, showing that it could do with a good fifteen minutes or so of pruning. Likewise the director doesn’t showcase a great deal of artistic flair, despite offering up some solid ideas. Marred by some poor camera work and rapid edits, no doubt designed to shroud the girls’ inability to fight, the film rarely excites in delivering the kind of high octane and imaginative sequences it so desperately alludes to, further hindered by the shocking - and all too frequent - aid of CGI blood smattering. Credited with the task of visual effects is Yoshihiro Nishimura and Tsuyoshi Kazuno, both of whom will be familiar to Noboru Iguchi fans but those fans should note there is nothing here remotely memorable when compared to previous cult faves.
However, the performances here are largely forgivable. Asami, who has managed to carve out a nice little reputation as a cult starlet over the years, turns in a suitably stoic performance next to that of Rena Komine as her crazed adversary, while Jiro Sato - usually found bumbling his way through TV dramas - lends is own particular brand of comedy in a scene-stealing turn as a neurotic mob boss.
The DVDCine Du Monde’s anamorphic 1.78:1 NTSC transfer is a generally fine one, with no real authoring concerns. A clean looking print for a recent digital picture, Yakuza Hunters does have an overall soft appearance but given some hallmark tinkering here it’s quite possible that its slight haziness is a result of the editing process. Colours have been tweaked to warm the palette while there seems to be a little filtering here and there to suggest a more film-like quality. Contrast is a tad high, which eliminates some finer details, particularly during darker scenes but it’s not uncommon to see on features of this type.
The Japanese DD2.0 soundtrack is perfectly acceptable, with no distortion or dropouts. Dialogue is clear, with my only criticism stemming from some slightly off syncing, which I suspect is an ADR issue.
Extras consist of a trailer for this feature, alongside several other Cine Du Monde releases.