Cinema Epoch // 2007 // 99 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // July 7th, 2008
Naoki will have to choose between the light and the dark.
About halfway through Young Yakuza, Naoki -- the young Yakuza in question -- talks with his peers about Yakuza movies. He notes that the films are usually full of intrigue and violence, and never show any of the meetings that seem so pervasive in real life -- and that's when it clicked for me.
Young Yakuza is a Yakuza movie without the violence, but plenty of meetings.
Young Yakuza is not fiction; it's a documentary, and the director, Jean-Pierre Limosin (Tokyo Eyes), was obviously constrained by what he could show. The film follows Naoki, an aimless 20-year-old Japanese man whose concerned mother enrolls him in an entry-level position with the local Yakuza, in his journey from young layabout to gangland lackey. Naoki meets Kumagi, a local head of the Yakuza, and somewhat of a mentor to aimless youth.
Kumagi philosophizes on the yakuza lifestyle -- and his management skills in particular -- to Naoki and, more often, solely for the camera. Meanwhile, Naoki hangs out with the other young members of the Yakuza and works menial tasks that keep him humble. While the film never passes judgment on these men or their activity, Naoki does begin to question the unsavory life of the gangster and his place in the Yakuza.
By far the biggest asset of Limosin's film is the access he gets to a mysterious lifestyle. Kumagi is an intriguing figure; not only because of his position, but because he is physically unimposing, yet still exudes a menace, and intelligence that makes him a powerful figure -- not unlike Al Pacino. There are also interesting glimpses into the rituals that seem to dominate the Yakuza lifestyle: endless supplicating of the management, comparing tattoos in the bathhouse, and, yes, a lot of meetings.
While it seems a bit unfair to criticize a documentary for not capturing the right footage, Young Yakuza simply fails to captivate. The film fails to build any dramatic tension and lumbers along, even at a 99-minute running time. While Kumagi is an intriguing individual, Naoki is a bland, inarticulate young man who both fails to provide insight on his emotional state or inspire interest in his life decisions.
Perhaps a soundtrack or voiceover would have enlivened the action or maybe the material just wasn't there. Either way, watching members of the Yakuza sit around and chat for an hour is both interesting and underwhelming.
The DVD, released by Cinema Epoch, contains no features, but has a clean sound and picture, especially for a foreign documentary.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Unrated