Review Date: 9/6/21
Cast: Masumi, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Eijiro Ozaki
"There are no harmless old men."
A crime family is slain in Japan, and only a 1-year old girl survives. Twenty years later, Akemi (Masumi) is living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and learning the way of the sword, while forces converge to turn her world upside down. One of those forces is a Yakuza heavy named Takeshi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), who gets word of her existence and travels to Brazil to hunt her down. Another is a nameless assassin who has amnesia (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who tracks Akemi down looking for answers regarding a cursed family sword. And the last is a group of rowdy thugs who try to rape and murder her on her 21st birthday. Let's just say it's been a bad week for Akemi... Ultimately, she takes up her father's (grandfather's?) cursed Muramasa sword and declares war on her father's enemies - not out of honor or obligation, but merely to reclaim her life.
This film had an extremely limited theatrical release and the only screen it was playing on was a 2-hour drive from me. I also happened to be the only one in the theater, which was nice, but also a little sad. My other option would have been to wait for the movie to come out on DVD, but that's an increasingly risky gamble as fewer titles are getting home releases these days - especially the more obscure films. Being a die-hard fan of female action cinema, I felt it was my duty and obligation to support this film (and cinemas in general), so I turned it into a day trip over Labor Day weekend.
The film itself is solidly mediocre. The neon and fluorescent soaked photography is gorgeous and the film looks beautiful, but the shaky handheld camera work and rapid fire edits are infuriating. The fight choreography is decent, but the execution is weak and the cinematography and editing are so erratic that you can't make out what's happening. The story is needlessly cryptic and confusing, which leaves you guessing the entire time, but not in a good way. It's also a slow burn and while the deliberately sluggish pacing tries to build atmosphere and tension, it just made me impatient after a while. It's a breakout role for singer/songwriter/actress Masumi, and while she's young, attractive, athletic, bilingual, and gives a strong physical performance, her delivery tends to be a bit flat and she has trouble carrying the dramatic weight of the film. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is the wildcard in the film, and his wild-eyed stare makes him a perfect psychotic killer. He also sees a fair amount of action and suffers an incredible amount of abuse throughout. Tsuyoshi Ihara also gives a solid performance as a high ranking Yakuza enforcer with a hidden agenda. It's a grim, violent, and bloody film that aims high and falls a bit short. It has a hard time finding its groove, but contains enough visceral thrills to keep genre fans entertained.