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.