Miike has proved to be one of the most versatile and reliably inventive directors of the last decade. He is no longer merely Japanese; his movies reach an ever-growing audience in Europe, America and elsewhere. Capably of churning out several films a year (owing to his background in the B-cinema of straight-to-video yakuza action variety), even the best of Miike's films have a sense of fleetingness - not to say hurriedness - to them. That is because, for Miike, more is more. Frugality be damned. The film under review is NOT one of his most polished works, but it is smooth and shiny, and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. And a faithful adaptation to boot.
You see, with "Like A Dragon", the celebrated but wacky director enters the world of video game screen adaptations, translating Sega's Playstation 2 hit game "Yakuza" into cinematic terms. But Tomb Raider or Doom this is not. For one, "Yakuza" (which I've played and enjoyed) had a much superior storyline to most other games out there. Thrilling and dark, the story of the game gets adapted, with seeming ease, into Miike-speak. How did they condense a 15-hour storyline into a 100-minute movie? Not perfectly, but satisfactorily. A few jumps and omissions bespeak the origins of the story, but overall the story holds.
The reason for this easy transition is clear: The world of the yakuza, petty criminals, cops and street urchins is right in well-tested Miike territory. After dozens of films that deal with the underworld of Japan, the veteran director knows his stuff. A yakuza game + a yakuza director is a marriage made in (some perverted) heaven. Visually, too, this film captures the atmosphere and locale of the game. The colour spectrum of both the outdoors shots and the indoor sets is pleasing to the eye, and almost every shot is beautiful to look at. Especially in a few indoors shots there is poetry to violence.
Mixing humour (as Miike does) with violence and tragedy, the film never loses its edge. Miike captures both the serious and comic side of the thugs and social rejects in the film. Many of the characters in the game, especially the young girl, Haruka, and the delinquent teenage lovers are really likable and you really feel for their fates.
The storyline may leave those who haven't played the game hanging (just who-what-where?), but it isn't necessary to play the game to appreciate the movie. They both stand on their own.
Lucky for Miike to have such good source material, and lucky for Sega to be able to attach one of the great directors of today in a project that otherwise would have been doomed to mediocrity. Salvaged by style and visual richness, "Like A Dragon" is an above-average Miike film with enough twists and turns to make you feel like game-to-movie adaptations ARE possible after all. Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson - take notes and learn!
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