B Movie Glory: American Yakuza

I mean what can you expect from a film called American Yakuza? There’s no lofty cultural metaphors at play here, it’s quite literally about infiltration of the infamous Japanese crime syndicate by a lone wolf FBI deep cover agent played by Viggo Mortensen, who had quite the fascinating career before Lord Of The Rings shunted him into the international spotlight. He’s an interesting guy who really broke the mold with Aragorn but before that Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with him, casting him in a goody bag of incredibly eclectic roles that saw him serve as action hero, sage mentor, maniacal villain and even The Devil himself. Here he’s restrained, sardonic and carries the role of this somewhat renegade Fed well, underscored by solid action scenes and obligatory early 90’s melodrama. He’s caught between a ruthless yet honourable Yakuza boss (Ryo Ishibashi) who believes him to be one of the ranks, an equally ruthless mafia Don (scene stealing Michael Nouri) with no honour whatsoever who wants to wipe the Japanese out and a corrupt, unorthodox FBI section chief (Robert Forster) who is trying to pit both forces against each other and let the animals wipe each other out in a collective bloodbath. Viggo is stuck in the middle and I found his character fascinating because he’s alone in the world, the reason he joined the bureau is he had no family, nothing to lose and he sort of finds one in the Yakuza, before loyalties are tested and all hell breaks loose. This is a pretty substandard 90’s action flick that benefits a great deal from Mortensen, who could literally make interesting acting work out of portraying a soup cracker. Nouri is also a vicious treat as the Italian mob boss, an evil xenophobic asshole who loves to provoke others, intimidate his own men and is just an all round rotten bastard. Fun stuff, streaming on Amazon Prime these days.

-Nate Hill

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