Takeshi KitanoBen HiuraTatsuya FujiMasaomi Kondo
Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen
Also known as: Ryuuzou to Shichinin no Kobuntachi
Medium: film
Year: 2015
Writer/director: Takeshi Kitano
Keywords: comedy, yakuza
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Tatsuya Fuji, Ben Hiura, Kojun Ito, Masanobu Katsumura, Takeshi Kitano, Masaomi Kondo, Hisako Manda, Akira Nakao, Akira Onodera, Fumika Shimizu, Atomu Shimojo, Toru Shinagawa, Ken Yasuda, Ken Yoshizawa
Format: 125 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4176776/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 4 October 2015
I only saw the first half of this. I was watching it on the plane, but I didn't have time to finish it before we landed. It's not always an entirely comfortable film to watch, but it's funny and I'd recommend it.
It's an old age pensioner yakuza comedy. Tatsuya Fuji plays Ryuzo, a retired yakuza who must have been terrifying fifty years ago. He's still pretty anti-social today, in fact, with all of his old attitude (trash-talking people and beating them up in the local pachinko parlour) and carrying around a big knife. However he's not in the business any more. He lives with and embarrasses his law-abiding son. He's in touch with one or two people from the old days, some of whom are even more ridiculous than him. Touru Shinagawa plays "Mac", for instance, who dresses like his celluloid hero Steve McQueen (c.1950s) and gets told by his nurse to put away his gun. (No one believes him when he tells them it's real.)
These are the film's heroes. Its villains are a gang of slick modern fraudsters who run a professional operation and have the opinion you'd expect of a bunch of geriatric has-beens.
The uncomfortableness comes from the fact that Ryuzo and his chums are unrepentant old-school gangsters, with viewpoints to match. They're capable of yakuza chivalry, but they're hardly much better than the villains. On seeing a conman trying to collect on loan shark debts by pretending to be a cripple in a wheelchair, they quite like this idea and decide to make a bit of freelance money by joining in. One of their number is himself a pathological conman, whose only saving grace is his utter incompetence. Their way of deciding who should be the boss of the new yakuza family they're setting up is to give everyone a score on a points system. 10 points for each murder committed with your own hands (ordering underlings to kill someone doesn't count), 1 point for each year in prison, etc.
What makes them work as comedy protagonists is the fact that they're so bad at being bad. In practice, if you're not a bad guy, they're harmless. They'll mouth off to each other in mid-con as if it's still the 1970s. Trying to extorting protection money ends up with their "victims" giving them a few hundred yen out of pity. All their attempts to be badass just make them look absurd. However they are still foul-mouthed tattoo-riddled menaces to society with more weapons than remaining teeth, so there's a lot of comedy to be had from one of the villains' underlings trying to pull a scam on them and then freezing in horror on realising that they're alone in a small room with several ultra-violent armed career criminals.
You'll see these actors in lots of proper yakuza films back in the day, obviously. This is a good thing. The film's a comedy and the people they're playing are ridiculous, but none of them thinks of themselves that way and you can trust veteran actors like that to pull out the power any given scene might need.
Takeshi himself only acts in a small role, as a policeman who knows them from the old days. He's not quite old enough to play one of the geriatrics. He's not past it and is still starring in yakuza films like Outrage. It's still early days, but I reckon this should be be a broad-appeal hit for Takeshi. It's not surreal or niche. Fans of his yakuza films should have a laugh with it, but so should lots of other audiences too. It's funny. Everything I've written here is based only on the film's first half, obviously, but it seems a safe bet that the second half's going to be just as good.