Fantasia Festival: Ryuzo And The Seven Henchmen [Review]

Ryuzo And The Seven Henchmen
(Ryuzo 7 / Ryûzô to 7 nin no kobun tachi)

Takeshi Kitano is no stranger to the gangster genre, bursting onto the scene with ‘Violent Cop’ and achieving widespread popularity with both ‘Outrage’ and ‘Beyond Outrage’ respectively, you will be hard pressed to find anyone who presents the Yakuza on-screen as well as Kitano does. Outside of these violent and raw films, Kitano is known as a TV personality and comedian to the Japanese public, which makes this comedy crime caper seem less out-of-place in his filmography than initially thought.

The film opens with Ryuzo, an old man (Tatsuya Fuji) covered in Yakuza tattoos and being scolded by his seemingly rigid yet slightly frail, family-man son (Masanobu Katsumura) for being embarrassing. Patronised and fed up, we realise that this former Yakuza boss is clearly frustrated at his current situation. Things reach a tipping point when he receives a phone call from someone, pretending that his son is in trouble and that they need money urgently. Ryuzo may be old, but he isn’t an idiot. This is the type of thing they used to do back in the day, and after a brief conversation with the police, he susses out that the phone call scam is one of many in a long list of scams being ran by the Keihin Rengo gang, who now operate on what was Yakuza territory.

Ryuzo rustles up the old gang to try to reclaim what was once theirs, but that is exactly what they are, old. The coming together of the henchmen and the somewhat ridiculous situations they subsequently find themselves in are rife with laughs. Attempts at trying to intimidate the rival gang are constantly undermined by their inability to shoot/aim/throw straight, stand up properly or coordinate any kind of plan or offence, not to mention their new ‘family’ name being confused with a local noodle restaurant. They are seemingly inept, but somehow effective.

That being said, the film was inconsistent. Moments where it felt directionless, humour that didn’t quite land (the occasional fart from Ryuzo left me baffled as to why it was put in at all), and other jokes that perhaps to the more avid Yakuza movie fanatic may have landed. Long periods of the film were flat and repetitive, as a result I got the impression that it was played safe, and it came across as a middle of the road comedy in the end.

However, I won’t let that detract from what was an enjoyable movie experience. I love the intensity of gangster films in Japan, and what Kitano manages to bring out of his actors here is seen across his other work too. Despite all of them being at least 65+ years of age including Kitano himself, they still had more conviction than most of the mumbly, slow talking gangster flicks you see now. Their enthusiasm is matched by the flashes of brilliance in the cinematography, as the close-up shots of the stand-out cast during their moments of impassioned aggression show that Kitano has managed to keep some traits of his gangster epics in this film.

Ryuzo 7 is every bit as ridiculous as you would expect, has some very subjective humour, and is an accessible and easy-going experience. It falls a little flat at times, and is perhaps a missed opportunity at a wider depiction of what is like to truly grow old, but you can’t fault the style, skill and acting ability of the people involved. I hope through making Ryuzo 7 it has encouraged Kitano to make another comedy film suited for the mainstream, because there’s clearly potential there as evidenced by this, but I don’t think we got all of it this time.

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