I am pretty sure that plenty of folks will still remember the company named “SEGA” that was responsible for several video games as well as gaming consoles. Well, this film is the first movie ever produced by Sega and is based on the Playstation 2 video game with the same name. Sure, Americans are easily turned off when they hear the words “video game adaptations” and understandably so. Well, this video game adaptation is directed by none other than critically acclaimed Japanese director TAKASHI MIIKE (Audition) who like Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro and Robert Rodriguez has achieved a lot of things to make the movies from their respective homelands quite energized and very comprehensible. It also has a script adapted from a story by ace Japanese writer Hase Seishu. So do I have your attention yet?
Fearsome Yakuza underling Kiryu Kazuma (Kazuki Kitamura) has just been released from prison after ten years. He is now trying to pick up what is left in his life by distancing himself from his past and helping a young girl named Haruka (Natsuo) who is trying to find her lost mother. Complicating matters is a psychotic man who wields a baseball bat named Majima (Kishitari Goro) who is intent on settling a score with Kiryu. To make matters even more bizarre and complex; there’s a Korean assassin (Gong Yoo), a masochistic informer/gun dealer (Arakawa YosiYosi),and a couple of bank robbers who are trying to rob a penniless bank who torments the bank‘s employees with their bickering. Oh, there is also a couple of teens (Shun Shioya and sexy Saeko) who are intent on a “stealing spree". One chaotic night in Japan…Pure madness!!
“Ryu Go Gotoku” (Like a Dragon, 2007) has all the sensibilities of a Takashi Miike film namely flamboyance in direction, over-the-top action, visual gags and several genre-bending receptivity that is “PURE” Miike. The movie may have the usual themes that are mostly present in the Takashi Miike feature film namely Yakuza, bloodlust, lost of innocence, cartoonish violence, death and destruction. This is not the Miike of “Audition” or “Imprint” but the Miike of movies such as “Dead Or Alive”, “Zebraman” and “Crows”.
What makes the film quite different is its cast of coincidental characters that are just so odd and very outrageous. My favorite would have to be Majima who almost steals the show with his wild quips and outrageousness that is just so sinister and yet so charming. He is similar to Miike’s main character in “Ichi the Killer” but not as vile or as ruthless as a villain. Miike does his character just right as with comedic villainy and manic behavior. Kiryu is just your typical manga/anime hero that exudes manly charisma who is the strong, silent and mysterious type. He’s your clichéd Yakuza hero but when played by Kitamura, the man is able to breathe into the screen. The only complaint I have is that the two youngsters played by Saeko and Shun appears to be a little underutilized. They had this potential “Bonnie and Clyde-True Romance” kind of thing that wasn’t developed properly. The two sweating bank robbers who are trying to rob a penniless bank is so “Dog Day Afternoon” that adds a certain zest to the film by giving it a “what the heck?” feel.
The film has the a lot of violence but it is not the type of violence that we’ve seen in his horror movies. The action here is violent and brutal but channels the anime-like style in its screenplay. Some parts of it were just intentionally made to look rather silly while some had that “manly spark” that is the epitome of “Red Bull Energy drink” magic. The fights are in the “cartoonish” side no doubt to make them more reminiscent of the movie’s video game roots. During the encounter between Kiryu and Boss Nishikiyama, the two displays that colored aura or “heat mode” that means the fighters almost have near superhuman qualities. It was so amusing to see Kiryu go on hyper-energized mode that is so full of “aura-some” manly stamina.
Takashi Miike is a very flamboyant director and “Like A Dragon” embodies some of the things that made his films really fun and enjoyable. The film does appear a little “out of sync” at times because it feels a little unfocused because of its numerous subplots but it was obviously aimed to engender a “Pulp Fiction-like” ensemble style of storytelling. There is a lot of intended confusion in this movie but I suppose that is just Miike exercising his signature in directing this type of Yakuza pieces.
Recommended! To fans of Japanese cinema [4- Out of 5 Stars]