Written by: Adam Vaughn | September 2nd, 2021
Yakuza Princess (Vicente Amorim, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars
Just in time for the release of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings comes another film in the same exact vein. In Yakuza Princess, director Vicente Amorim (Motorrad) tells the story of a young woman, Akemi (a name she denies throughout the film), who finds out she is the heir of a yakuza crime syndicate in Japan. Raised by her sensei and trained to strike hard, Akemi (played by Japanese-American singer Masumi) receives an unexpected visit from an amnesiac man who claims his borrowed katana is rightfully hers; he says it contains vast history and possibly mystical powers. Hunted by her father’s yakuza enemies, Akemi races to discover her heritage and fulfill her destiny.
Unfortunately Akemi’s journey in Yakuza Princess is a long strand of clichéd story points, launching with an opening scene that essentially gives away the film’s entire context. While it does so in an intense and satisfying manner, leaving a great deal of tension for the rest of the plot, it essentially sets the rest of the movie up for disaster. From there, we no longer have any surprising moments to look forward to, as Akemi’s journey feels extremely conventional and follows the typical self-discovery character arc we’ve seen before. On top of its basic story, the dialogue feels very on-the-nose, pushing the audience into one cookie-cutter scene after another.
Still, Yakuza Princess’s aesthetic and action carry the film forward in a decent way and are the strongest elements of the film. After a while, I found the artistic coloration and stylistic lighting and cinematography to be a bit distracting, but more often than not director Amorim’s choices are vastly entertaining, and more importantly successfully carry the film’s mood and visual tone. On top of that, I had no complaints about the occasional exciting (if gruesome) scenes of violence and action, set to some truly painterly imagery.
While Yakuza Princess may have much to enjoy in terms of visual appeal, the overall concept is a rather forgettable experience. Shang-Chi will almost definitely overshadow Amorim’s release by beating it in visual effects, writing, and character development. While I appreciate Amorim’s stylistic decisions, Yakuza Princess’s narrative structure just doesn’t hold together.