Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen (2015)

After making two very hard boiled, gritty and nihilistic gangster movies, Takeshi Kitano seems to have decided to return back to his first love, comedy. Granted, he didn’t stray that far from the tree that bears lucrative fruits, as the story here revolves around eight geriatric ex-Yakuza members who decide to come back from retirement, sort of putting the band back together if you will, and form a new crime family made of elderly people to, absurdly, relive their old glory days. It’s exactly as ridiculous and silly as it sounds. And glorious. Never has watching eight Japanese guys past their prime getting into hijinks been this much fun. I’ve seen the movie described as parodical grandpa version of Expendables, and that is fairly accurate. I guess those two previous Outrage movies that Kitano made really sold a lot of tickets both in Japan and abroad since we’re still tackling the gangster genre rather than seeing something more art house again from Kitano. It is entirely understandable, his more artistic films always did pretty well critically but not financially if I’m not entirely mistaken, so there is incentive to tread the path that has proved financially fruitful. Especially inside Japan. Not that I’m complaining, any movie from Kitano is worth watching and nobody really does gangster movies like him.

In many ways the movie feels like Kitano returning back to his comedic roots, in the vein of his classic 90s comedy Getting Any?  This time around the comedy feels a lot more fart based and kinda juvenile, but then again, in Getting Any? the plot revolved entirely around a guy desperately trying to get laid, and the grand finale of the movie involved the lead character, who had accidentally been turned into a half-fly half-man hybrid, lured into a trap by giant turd. We don’t quite reach that level of fantastical proportions here, but the overall hyperbolic and madcap tone is eerily similar.

I was slightly disappointed that Susumu Terajima didn’t appear in this, even as a  small cameo. He used to be such a staple in Kitano’s earlier movies that I’m starting to miss him now that it’s been several movies in a row where he’s not made an appearance. You do only miss him in hindsight, rather than actively during the movie, as the people cast in the central roles in this are all quite good, so it’s not like you were lacking in talent. Especially Tatsuya Fuji in the lead role as the titular Ryuzo is marvelous. He is both incredible funny when the movie is cracking jokes, like the entire skit where after Ryuzo almost gets caught red handed having an affair with a rival gangster’s girlfriend and he’s forced to dress up in women’s nightgown and flee to the street that then leads to Ryuzo getting harassed by transvestite prostitutes who think he’s invading their turf, as well as physically imposing when it’s time to bust heads and cut off fingers in true Yakuza manner.

Only Kitano could make the climax of a movie be something as farcical and incredibly hilarious at the same time as what we get here. There is just something absolutely captivating about the sheer bizarre and nonsensical finish where we witness the group of elderly gangsters, one of whom by this point is dead and is just tagging along by being cartwheeled in a wheelchair, commandeer a city bus from the street and chase after a fleeing rival gang who have been antagonizing Ryozo’s crew throughout the movie, creating a comical geriatric car chase sequence that takes them from the busy city streets and alleys to the warehouse district where, after a lot of chaos and collateral damage, they finally catch their prey, only to be arrested at the last moment and carted off to jail. You can’t really believe your eyes after its all finished. You’ve been laughing so much you have tears in your eyes and you’re gasping for air. Not by any means Kitano’s finest contribution to cinema, but it is truly a barrel of laughs.


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