Yakuza Princess (2020) [Fantasia Film Festival 2021]

Many times whenever a movie is adapted from a graphic novel, the movie should have a good jumping in point where you can easily follow along. The problem with “Yakuza Princess” is that it feels like you almost have to read the original graphic novel to understand almost anything going on here. “Yakuza Princess” isn’t a bad movie per se. It’s a beautifully filmed adaptation with excellent visuals by Vicente Amorim, it’s just that you will probably have a tough time following along with the mythology and motivations behind the characters if you never read the original material.

Based on the acclaimed graphic novel “Samurai Shiro” by Danilo Beyruth, and set in the expansive Japanese community of Sao Paulo, Brazil — “Yakuza Princess” follows orphan Akemi (played by pop star MASUMI), who, upon turning 21, discovers that she is the heiress to half of Japan’s expansive Yakuza crime syndicate. After forging an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac stranger (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who believes an ancient sword binds their two fates, Akemi unleashes war against the other half of the syndicate who wants her dead.

From there, much of the film involves Akemi and her protector Shiro; they flee from the Yakuza and evade attempted assassinations while she struggles to come to grips with her past, and her legacy that involves the mythical katana and upholding its secrets and potential. Everything that unfolds feels so out of context, injecting this uncomfortable idea that the audience has to refer to the graphic novel to understand anything happening. This not only makes the movie feel woefully under cooked, but drops an unnecessary chore on to our laps. I have nothing against samurai fiction (I love it, actually), but “Yakuza Princess” so be so much broader and easily accessible, and it just isn’t.

The chaotic city scape becomes heightened the moment Akemi realizes she holds a fate that is nearly inescapable. Vicente Amorim, again, offers some beautiful visuals and dynamic action sequences, and paints Brazil as this dreamscape filled with menacing characters and intense violence. Director Amorim took obvious inspiration from “John Wick” injecting bold hues of red, purple, and blue, while also enhancing the full motion comic book effect until the very end. That said, “Yakuza Princess” was often cold, and monotonous and never quite packed enough substance with the action scenes. Despite the strong turns by MASUMI and Rhys-Meyers, “Yakuza Princess” never feels whole; it instead feels like one chapter in a planned saga that you have to play catch up with.

I’m not keen on going along for the ride, 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 5th until August 25th.