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  • Benjamin May

Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen (2015) Review

The tattoos always give it away, whether they belong to someone young or old. They are a signifier for a Yakuza member like a Tommy Gun is for a mafioso. Elderly Ryuzo bears the ink and was once a powerful gangster with a vicious crew at his command. Now in his eighties, he is conned by younger criminals who utilize modern methods to dupe him. Gathering together some of his old compatriots, he forms a geriatric gang to take down the hoodlums and take control of the town; restoring his sense of worth and honor to his family name.

Takeshi Kitano's seventeenth movie, 'Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen' is an entertaining, funny crime comedy (à la Martin Brest's 'Going in Style') that should please anyone familiar with his work. The story goes to some pretty wild places but is consistently and genuinely funny. There is also heart and soul in the film, and the theme of aging- of getting ready to face the dying of the light- is navigated in a mature, steady manner that will resonate with many.

The film features a powerful central performance from Tatsuya Fuji that is reminiscent of Toshiro Mifune's best work. As Ryuzo, Fuji is like a volcano on the verge of eruption, simmering with indignance at the disrespectful world around him. Yet, he is also sympathetic, a man of honour from a time when rascals were gentlemen and thugs had codes of ethics. Fuji, dignified and intense, is perfect for the role and plays it masterfully.

His motley, elderly crew are an unpredictable, strange bunch- the stand outs being Masaomi Kondo and Toru Shinagawa. Masaomi is Ryuzo's right hand man, and his performance echoes Susumu Terajima's in Kitano's 'Brother.' Both give subtle, dedicated and loving performances as men whose only concern in life is the welfare of their Aniki (brother, superior). Shinagawa, as a pistol-toting Steve McQueen fanatic, is hilarious and a real highlight of the film. Both men deserved more screen time (as did Kitano himself, in an all-too brief appearance as a detective from Ryuzo's glory days).

Unfortunately, since Ryuzo is such a terrific, believable creation and his gang so entertaining, the villains and lesser characters come across as very one-dimensional- forgettable even. This is most notable with Masanobu Katsumura, who plays Ryuzo's son. There's nothing wrong with his performance, it's just the character is a bland wet-blanket; there's nothing interesting he can do with the role. The story also loses steam in the latter half, getting a little overly frenetic; but besides that it's a rollicking good time at the cinema.

Is this Kitano's best work? No, of course not. It is funny though, sometimes profound and always very entertaining. Fukasaku had his 'Battles Without Honor and Humanity': with 'Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen', Kitano has brought us a battle of honour and hilarity.


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