Fantasia 2021 Film Festival Review: Yakuza Princess

Written by Maria Athayde

50/100

Yakuza Princess directed by Vicente Amorim caught me by complete surprise. Based on the graphic novel Samurai Shiro, by Danilo Beyruth Yakuza Princess stars newcomer Masumi, a Japanese-American actress, singer-songwriter, and stunt performer, alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyers in what I consider one of the most commercial pieces of Brazilian cinema in recent memory. For starters the story is told predominantly in English which is somewhat of a rarity for Brazilians productions. 

Alternating between past and present day, in Osaka, Japan and São Paulo, Brazil predominantly Japanese neighborhood Liberdade (Liberty in English). The movie tells the story of Akemi (Masumi) an orphan living in Brazil who forms an unlikely alliance with an unknown and unnamed amnesiac man played by Rhys Meyers.  Both characters are bound together by a supposedly cursed katana that could hold the key to their pasts. During this journey, Akemi discovers her family was part of the yakuza, or Japanese mob, and vows to avenge those who killed her family. Yakuza Princess is full of style but little substance. The cool visuals, combat scenes, and desaturated color palette, with pops of neon every so often, were what kept me going. Story-wise the movie is shallow and lacked any meaningful throughline to keep me engaged. 

My biggest criticism is why did this story have to be told in English? Brazil has the largest Japanese diaspora in the world. So why not tell this story in either Portuguese or Japanese? I understand this was a choice to make the movie more commercial but by doing so the movie undercuts itself and misses the opportunity to explore the relationship between the two countries and cultures which dates back to 1908 when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil. In this picture we don’t even get to know why or how the characters wound up in Brazil in the first place. Yakuza Princess scores major style points and signals a new and exciting direction full of stylistic freedom that is being embraced by Brazilian cinema now, we just need an actual story to back it up. 

Yakuza Princess Trailer

Yakuza Princess was screened as part of the Fantasia 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on Letterboxd and Twitter or view more of what she’s up to here.

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