The bizarre cinematic jumble that is ‘Full Metal Yakuza’

The experience of watching Takashi Miike’s Full Metal Yakuza was a bit surreal. For the bulk of the 1997 film, I was reminded of a couple of 1980s geek classics – The Incredible Hulk television show and Robocop – mixed with the swordplay and spewing blood of Kill Bill.

The Incredible Hulk was the most direct connection. A man transformed by science into something other, forced to live apart. The musical theme for our hero Nagane from Full Metal Yakuza is oddly similar to that of Bruce Banner linked at the top of the post. And for a film made in 1997, the special effects were pure Reagan-era. Those effects added humor and cheesiness that helped undercut some of the violence.

While Hagane is a Japanese gang member, yakuza, much like Robocop, he is seeking justice. He and his mentor are set up and slaughtered, only to be recombined – with some robotic parts – to form our titular man of metal. Hagane wants to know who sold them out, and it is willing to cut his way through every gangster in Japan if necessary to find the answer. Unlike Robocop, however, there’s really not a deeper message that holds the action together.

It's refreshing to run into a mad scientist who knows he's absolutely nuts.

It’s refreshing to run into a mad scientist who knows he’s absolutely nuts.

Neither of those similarities to ’80s screen gems is enough to make Full Metal Yakuza a great movie, but for the bulk of the flick, it’s fun to watch. Until right at the end, when all of the fun ends.

A former lover of Hagane’s mentor comes across him and discovers that he is this mix of spare parts. It drives her mad, to the point where she makes a foolish assassination attempt on the head yakuza. She is captured and held prisoner to lure Hagane to a trap set by the yakuza.

If it stopped with that, it would be fine. But the young woman is held in the middle of an open warehouse, wearing some “sexy” outfit, chained to a mattress, legs spread wide. Then she is viciously gang raped – again in an attempt to goad Hagane – and bites off her own tongue amid the madness.

The humor was gone. The cheesiness, poof, disappeared. It was a much darker, much more exploitative moment than at any point in the movie. It was also completely unnecessary to show on-screen. I wrote a while back that while I Spit on Your Grave did a good job in its portrayal of a rape without making it feel lascivious or exploitative, I was still uncomfortable with the idea of people profiting of a rape flick. Here, there were no shades of gray. It was awful, and really beneath a filmmaker of Miike’s caliber. Disappointing.

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