This should've been great. As a concept, the fish out of water storyline is a tried and tested formula, and the setting within the Yakuza in post-WW2 Japan was potentially an inspired choice. However, it didn't delve anywhere near deep enough into these ideas, and instead remained very much on the outside. Perhaps that was a choice of the filmmakers, but as a storytelling device that only works for the characters, not the audience. We need to be let in on the inside.
I was excited about this film because it was picked up a few years ago on the Black List and it seemed to be my kind of story. I don't know if the idea came from Tony Luraschi's 1979 film of the same name about a young American joining the IRA who finds himself out of his depth, but there are many obvious similarities, and not just in the title. The problem with this film though, is that it didn't have the same dramatic conflict or character development. Things just happened and we kind of drifted along with Jared Leto's protagonist, Nick.
We didn't get to know anything of Nick's motivation or much of his backstory. That kept it intriguing for awhile, but by the end I didn't care one bit about him. Although the film was stylish and quite atmospheric, it suffered from poor pacing. When there was action, it was bloody and gory and often spontaneous, which can work to good effect, but I didn't find it particularly shocking because there was no build up of tension.
The whole film was a bit of a mystery to me. It didn't really use the setting of Japan to good effect, apart from a few cool looking scenes, and kind of skimmed the surface of Japanese culture, which to me at least, as an outsider, is utterly fascinating, and was the film's strongest selling point. Nor did it particularly explore the Yakuza in any great detail. I was really hoping for an updated version of The Yakuza (1974) but was left disappointed.
It scores a solid 6/10 because despite its limitations, it's enjoyable enough and it's refreshing to get something a bit different from your usual Hollywood fare. I also thought the cast did a pretty decent job.
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