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Mondo Yakuza
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by Jay Seaver

"No escape from yakuza vengeance down under."
3 stars

SCREENED AT MONSTER FEST 2016: "Mondo Yakuza" isn’t quite an “amateurs making a movie for themselves and having fun” production with no commercial prospects, but it has that sort of energy, making it a fairly agreeable throwback to old-school grindhouse productions. I imagine that’s especially true if one’s old grindhouse played a lot of Seijun Suzuki, and in attempting to channel that particular Japanese auteur, these Aussie filmmakers have the room to push things pretty far and still not feel like parody, since what inspired them was so insane.

It starts rough, with a Japanese student telling her drug-dealer boyfriend that she doesn’t worry about danger too much, because her brother back home is yakuza and if anything happens to her, well, you know what would happen. The universe apparently sees that as too good a dare to ignore, so soon enough Ichiro Kataki (Kenji Shimada) is arriving in Australia, picking up a bunch of guns, and looking for the punk who killed his sister. That would be Ryan Beckett (Glenn Maynard), a raving thug who will inevitably wind up holed up in the home of his even more insane mother (Elizabeth O’Callaghan) with his at least comparatively sane brother Calvin (Rob Stanfield).

Though it’s got a vengeful yakuza injected into the middle of it, part of what makes this movie fun is that, while it doesn’t quite play as a spoof of contemporary Australian crime movies, it pretty clearly shares a lot of DNA with things like Chopper and Animal Kingdom (and likely dozens of others that didn’t make such a high-profile Pacific crossing), although it’s got the sort of over-the-top violence and characterization that more serious crime movies would pull back on. That’s actually a point in its favor at this budget level; fake blood is cheap to make and, let’s be honest, even if five not-great actors whose characters die gushing blood at regular intervals have the same amount of screen time as one guy with roughly the same talent in another movie, it’s more exciting and less wearing. The criminal day-to-day of the Beckett Boys isn’t particularly memorable, but it doesn’t completely feel like going through the motions, and the cast is at least given expansive personalities to play up rather than hanging blandly around until they can increase the body count. Rob Stanfield, in particular, brings out a lot of very entertaining frustration as the brother righteously angry that the family business, and likely his corpse, is going to get cut to pieces because his brother is a violent idiot.

Of course, the yakuza is in the title, and while Kenji Shimada definitely looks smoother shooting or slicing his way through a fight scene than trying to look like his sister’s death has enraged him, director Addison Heath has embraced a classic yakuza aesthetic rather than just saying Japanese gangsters are cool and leaving it at that. The black-and-white photography may be digital, but it creates the same general atmosphere as its Japanese forebears, and while the violence is big and bloody, it escalates well without detracting from Ichiro’s stoic march through the underworld toward an impressively grand and gory finale.

I don’t particularly expect "Mondo Yakuza" to get a whole lot of traction outside its home territories; it may have some of the anything-goes vibe of classic Ozploitation but it’s not surprisingly great in a way that other places’ crazy homemade movies can’t match. It is still both enjoyable (and blessedly short at 79 minutes including a slow credit roll), and especially fun for audiences who like both Australian and Japanese crime and would like to see the crazy intersection.

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originally posted: 01/27/17 11:49:37
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