Review: ‘Yakuza Princess,’ starring Masumi, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Tsuyoshi Ihara

October 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Masumi in “Yakuza Princess” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Yakuza Princess”

Directed by Vicente Amorim

Japanese, Portuguese and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan and in Brazil, the action flick “Yakuza Princess” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people, black people and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A trinket shop worker, who was orphaned as a baby, finds out that she comes from a powerful Japanese crime family, and it’s her destiny to be a samurai-sword-wielding warrior.

Culture Audience: “Yakuza Princess” will appeal primarily to people who interested in violent action movies and don’t care if the plot is an idiotic mess.

Masumi and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in “Yakuza Princess” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

Japanese women rarely get to star in an action flick, so it’s a shame that “Yakuza Princess” is such mindless junk that isn’t even a worthy showcase for the female protagonist. The men in this incoherent movie actually get most of the screen time. The movie’s title character is more of a sidekick who’s in service of a story that cares more about what happens to a European stranger who ends up in Brazil and in Japan to look for a mysterious and rare sword. In other words, don’t be fooled into thinking that the “yakuza princess” is the only leading character in this horrible movie. It’s a “bait and switch” title where the female protagonist’s fate is largely decided by men.

Directed by Vicente Amorim, “Yakuza Princess,” is based on Danilo Beyruth’s graphic novel “Samurai Shiro,” which would have been a more accurate title for this movie because the film puts a lot of emphasis on a character named Shiro. Amorim co-wrote the “Yakuza Princess” screenplay with Fernando Toste, Kimi Lee and “Yakuza Princess” producer Tubaldini Shelling. Unfortunately, having four people write this movie’s screenplay just means that four people, instead of the usual one or two screenwriters, made a mess of the story.

In “Yakuza Princess,” so much screen time is given in the beginning to Shiro (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers), viewers will start to wonder at what point they’re going to see the “yakuza princess” part of the movie. There’s a lot of scenes of Shiro getting into fights and trying to find out who he is and his purpose in life before significant time is spent on the identity of the “yakuza princess.” The men of the yakuza (the term used for Japanese mafia) also spend a lot of time fighting with each other before viewers see any of the “yakuza princess,” her fighting skills and her identity journey.

Shiro actually doesn’t have a name for the majority of the film because he’s a European stranger who has amnesia for most of the story. He wakes up strapped to a hospital bed in São Paulo, Brazil, with no idea of who he is and why he’s there. Shiro doesn’t waste time in breaking out of the hospital in his first of many bloody action scenes. He then spends most of the story looking for a rare samurai sword, which has a connection to a Japanese woman in her early 20s named Akemi (played by Masumi), who lives in São Paulo and works as a trinket shop employee.

Akemi is really a “yakuza princess,” who finds out that her immediate family members (her parents and older brother) were killed in a mass murder when she was a baby in Japan. She was kidnapped, and ended up spending most of her life in São Paulo. This isn’t spoiler information because this massacre and kidnapping are shown at the very beginning of the film.

Akemi’s family wasn’t an ordinary family. She came from a family called the Takikawa clan, which had an influential hold on a crime syndicate in Japan. There was a power struggle in the syndicate that resulted in her father’s enemies plotting the massacre to get him and his heirs out of the way so the enemies could take over. These foes know that someone saved Akemi from being murdered along with her family. Whoever kidnapped her did so to put Akemi into hiding under a new identity in São Paulo, which has a large Japanese community.

But here’s why “Yakuza Princess” is so moronic: Akemi is supposed to be shocked when she finds out that she comes from a crime family. And yet, the first scene of her in the movie shows Akemi getting trained in samurai sword fighting skills from a middle-aged man named Chiba (played by Toshiji Takeshima), who has told her that her grandfather brought her to Chiba when Akemi was 6 years old.

And then, when Chiba is training Akemi, Chiba says, “You have the vocation to become a great warrior, but to fulfill it, you must leave your grief and anger.” Akemi replies, “I’m trying.” Chiba then gives her a samurai sword and says, “Let discipline shape your mind. You and your sword must become one. Allow this principle to guide you in your journey. It’s what your grandfather wanted.”

Anyone with common sense can see that all this talk about being destined to be a warrior and Akemi having a grandparent who wanted her to have fight skills all add up to her having a family that wants her to get extensive training to defend herself for a good reason. It’s all pretty obvious, but Akemi is too simple-minded to figure it out. You’d think she’d be curious about why her grandafather wanted Akemi to have these fight skills, since she’s an orphan who’s not in touch with any of her biological family members.

But apparently, Akemi has to wait for Shiro to show up so he can help solve the mystery of her past. It’s all so very patriarchal. And just like a princess fairy tale where an ordinary young woman transforms into a princess during a milestone event, Akemi becomes an ass-kicking warrior on her 21st birthday. It happens when she’s celebrating her birthday by doing karaoke at a bar, and she’s sexually harasssed by a creep. The next thing you know, she’s doing high kicks and martial arts brawling until a cop breaks up the fight. He best friend Samara (played by Ndudzo Siba) also gets involved in the fray.

“Yakuza Princess” is one of those mind-numbing martial arts movies that thinks a bunch of fight scenes strung together are enough to make up for a flimsy plot. Unfortunately, none of the acting is very good either. Rhys Meyers has an “I don’t care, just give me my paycheck” attitude that seeps through his performance. Masumi is best known as a singer and makes her feature-film acting debut in “Yakuza Princess.” All it shows is that Masumi needs to take more acting lessons.

And the feuding villains who want Akemi dead because she’s the rightful heir to her father’s yakuza empire are all so forgettable and generic. There’s some time-wasting scenes showing how a yakuza thug named Takeshi (played by Tsuyoshi Ihara) is competing with another yakuza thug named Kojiro (played by Eijiro Ozaki) to be the top-ranking henchman for their boss, who views this rivalry like watching two schoolboys squabbling. The inevitable torture and fight scenes involving these gangsters are absolutely soulless. And so is this entire movie.

Magnet Releasing released “Yakuza Princess” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.