Yakuza Princess review – stylish gangster tale makes its kills count

Jonathan Rhys Meyers has turned up in some rum old places of late. He gave one of his best performances as a Gestapo officer in the Norwegian drama The 12th Man, largely overlooked in early 2019. Now the roaming Irishman can be seen playing second blade to the singer-actress Masumi in a thriller set among São Paolo’s Japanese community, the most populous of its kind outside Japan.

Vicente Amorim’s film is fundamentally an exercise in shifting fistfuls of tropes – and cliches: beardy senseis, terse men named Takeshi, ambient Christopher Doyle lighting – halfway around the globe for the heck of it. Reheated 10,000 miles from source, these ingredients are presented medium-fresh. Like street-cart fusion cuisine, this film will fill a hole, if you have a particular hankering.

The plot binding these elements together is self-consciously comic-book: its source is Danilo Beyruth’s Samurai Shiro, a copy of which our heroine keeps close by. Masumi’s Akemi is a yakuza turf war survivor smuggled to Brazil, where she works on a market stall and fends off the local machos; Rhys Meyers is an amnesiac who walks out of a hospital facility with facial scars and a katana blade, and becomes our gal’s most assiduous shadow.

While we wait to learn whether that’s for good or ill, Amorim and cinematographer Gustavo Hadba paint the screen with an appreciable, low-level style. Working on a budget some way south of Kill Bill, they are attentive to matters of composition, finding rhymes between the landscapes of two distinct worlds. Even as the plot takes a turn around the houses, dispatching Akemi to discover a heritage we already know, the majority of Amorim’s images pop in some way, and – without straining unduly – this director makes his kills count, too.

From Rhys Meyers’ full-frontal nude scene to the finale, with its mustard-yellow jumpsuits and sententious speechifying (“the time of honour is over!”), it’s all very knowing, and 20 minutes longer than the nimbler B-movies everyone is referencing. Yet it’s been compiled with enthusiasm, flashes of skill, and a certain devil-may-care cheek – an infusion of newish blood for a Brazilian film industry that’s been badly drained in recent years.

Yakuza Princess is released on 13 September on digital platforms.

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