Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen
Celebrated Japanese auteur Takeshi Kitano returns to his comedic routes in a big way with this totally ludicrous, delightfully camp, laugh-out-loud action-comedy. From a director known internationally for his Yakuza-inspired crime-drama films, Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen depicts a group of elderly ex-gangsters in a self-reflexive subversion of the genre and a nod to the director’s own growing age.
Ex-Yakuza gangster Ryuzo (Tatsuya Fuji) is utterly bored with his retirement and yearns to return to the good old days. An embarrassment and a burden to his son and his family, Ryuzo maintains his connection to his old life through regular alcohol and betting-infused get-togethers with his former lieutenant, Masa. After several run-ins with the area’s new gang, a bunch of young punks with little respect for the old rules of the game or its players, nostalgic Ryuzo decides to reform his old family and reclaim their patch. With skills grown more than a little rusty with old age (though the one-time hard-men consider themselves to be at the top of their game) the group of pensioners must overcome the limitations of their old-fart’s bodies if they’re to reassert the old ways over the new.
Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen could probably have benefited at times from a defter touch with its humour: there are more than a few moments that far exceed the level of slapstick silliness they require, and too many flatulence gags for comfort. In spite of this, the film is basically pretty brilliant, charming and lively, with immensely likeable characters. The expert abilities of Tatsuya Fuji, whose deadpan and agile performance as Ryuzo negotiates the line between subtlety and ridiculousness far better than the film as a whole, definitely account for much of the success of the overall product. A slightly comic-book style approach to editing, emphatically artificial sound effects in fight scenes and witty introductory segments for each of the Yakuza characters, with faux-vintage footage contrasting their current states with their glory days, all contribute to the spirit of playfulness and fun.
Kitano is clearly unafraid to make a mockery of the genre that he himself has propped up over so many decades, and the awareness that he is laughing along with us at the absurdity of overdone clichés and generic tropes gives a pleasantly personal and self-deprecating feel to his film. Though it does drag a little in the middle, and definitely didn’t require all of its nearly two-hour screen time, genre fans and rookies alike no doubt will still find plenty to gratify.
Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen does not yet have a UK release date. It is part of the Laugh Gala at the 59th London Film Festival.
Watch the trailer Ryuzo and His Seven Henchman here: