Yakuza Princess

Movie review by
Monique Jones, Common Sense Media
Yakuza Princess Movie Poster Image
Entertaining yet clichéd action thriller; intense violence.
  • R
  • 2021
  • 111 minutes

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Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The story is all about vengeance, but movie also promotes idea that it takes courage to stand up against those who want to harm you and others. Expressing emotions such as grief and fear is healthy and can increase empathy for others. 

Positive Role Models

Akemi is scared of the men following her but rallies her courage to stand and face them. Akemi's experiences with grief from losing her grandfather help make her someone viewers will empathize with. Akemi has opportunity to get revenge on the assassin who killed her family. But she spares his life, thanks to his decision to help her in her mission to take down the less honorable sect of the yakuza. 

Diverse Representations

Tries to take unique approach by showcasing São Paulo, home of largest Japanese diasporic population in the world. But it fails to show what makes São Paulo special, instead focuses on creating shots of the city that fall in line with stereotypes associated with Asian countries, including crowded streets, neon lights, signage. Majority of main characters are Asian, particularly Japanese (São Paulo and Osaka are the two main locations). But the film inexplicably has actors whose first language is Japanese speaking English, even though other scenes showcase key characters speaking Japanese. There isn't much Portuguese spoken in the film, even though it takes place in Brazil, which alienates the story from its South American audience and place of origin. Reflecting Brazil's large African Brazilian population, Yakuza Princess includes Black actors in various roles. Diverse gender representaions include a drag queen performing at a club. 

Violence

Many scenes of intense, graphic violence, including gunfights, sword fights, blood, beheadings, hara-kiri (ritualistic death by suicide), and massacres. A man sexually harrasses Akemi by saying lewd comments such as "Show me how a Jap twerks" and handles his genitals in her direction.

Sex

Nudity includes bare breasts and women in underwear and male full-frontal. Scene shows a man with a woman who's implied to be a sex worker after sex. Akemi is asked by Kojiro whether she knows how to "please a man."

Language

Strong language includes "f--k," "f--k off," "f--king," "motherf----r," "bastard." Racial and cultural slurs include "Jap" and "gaijin" (the latter of which means "foreigner" in Japanese and is considered a slur depending on context).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking and drinking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Yakuza Princess is a mature action thriller based on a Brazilian graphic novel about a young woman named Akemi (Masumi) who learns that she's the heir to a yakuza clan and must avenge her family. Expect frequent intense, graphic violence, including sword fights, gunfights, and scenes of gruesome injuries, blood, and death (characters are beheaded). There's also strong language ("f--k," "bastard," and slurs like "Jap"), as well as both partial (female) and full-frontal (male) nudity and substance use (smoking, drinking). While the film is largely about revenge, it does have themes of courage and empathy.

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What's the story?

Based on the graphic novel Samurai Shiro by Brazilian author Danilo Beyruth, YAKUZA PRINCESS follows Akemi (Masumi), a young woman living among São Paulo's Japanese community who learns that she's being hunted by the same sect of yakuza that killed her family. She's helped by Shiro (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an assassin who can't remember anything about his violent past -- including his name, his country of origin, or decimating Akemi's family -- and Takeshi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), a yakuza member who was loyal to Akemi's family. Akemi's employer, Mrs. Tsugahara (Mariko Takai), also points her toward her fate with a final showdown against Kojiro (Eijiro Ozaki), one of the yakuza who wanted Akemi dead. 

Is it any good?

This action thriller is an entertaining yet staid retread of familiar assassin film clichés. Yakuza Princess comes close on the heels of The Protégé, also a film about a woman assassin. Like that film, Yakuza Princess doesn't really break any new ground, storywise, but it does give these types of stories a fresh backdrop: Brazil. That said, Brazil's Japanese community in São Paulo (the world's largest Japanese population outside of Japan) is still shown in an "othered" light, despite the fact that most of the lead characters are Japanese. In real life, the city's Japanese-Brazilian neighborhoods and business areas are much more vibrant and inviting than the film's primary dank, cramped-looking street set. It would have been great to get more of the city's flavor and its embrace of Japanese culture. And then there's the ever present neon signage, which has become a clichéd calling card of films that are either set in Japan, feature Japanese-style sword fighting, or both. 

As Akemi, Masumi makes a solid debut in her first leading role. She's compelling in her fighting scenes, and she's able to use some of her "ingenue" status to characterize Akemi, who's unfamiliar with the world of yakuza despite spending years in sword training at the behest of her grandfather, who is killed before the movie begins. However, while Masumi's rawness helps her characterize Akemi, there's still a lack of character depth. Perhaps that has to do with the script, which relies on genre tropes to rehash familiar ground. Still, it feels like other actors in the film -- including Meyers, Takeshima, Ozaki, Ihara, and Takai -- created lived-in backstories for their characters to help them connect with their scenes. That feels like a must, considering that some of them, including Meyers, actually don't do much except help Akemi progress toward her ultimate showdown with the people who destroyed her family. Yakuza Princess is entertaining for die-hard fans of the genre. But if you're wanting something different, it squanders an opportunity to expound on what makes São Paulo so cool.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of grief in Yakuza Princess. How is Akemi's life shaped by grief? How does she handle her grief?

  • What role does violence play in the film? Does it help tell a story, or did you feel it was gratuitous?

  • How was São Paulo showcased in the film? Did you learn anything new about the city and its Japanese population?

  • Why does Takeshi decide to help Akemi? Why is honor important to him? How do characters demonstrate courage and empathy in the film?

  • Why is Akemi going after the yakuza? Are her reasons well-defined? Why do you think revenge is such a common plot device?

Movie details

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