Director: Frank Cappello
Writer: Takashige Ichise, Max Strom, John Allen Nelson
Producer: Joel Soisson
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Ryo Ishibashi, Michael Nouri, Franklyn Ajaye, Yuji Okumoto, Anzu Lawson, Robert Forster, John Fujioka, Nicky Katt, James Taenaka, Saiko Isshiki, Fritz Mashimo, Jeff Bankert, John Hammil, Michael Westfall, Nathan Jung, Chris Hubbell, Joey Ciccone, Toni Naples
Running TIme: 95 min.
By JJ Hatfield
After a prisoner finishes a one year term in solitaire he is released and on his own. He had heard of a couple of places that would hire former convicts and he heads out to find his way in this new life. Finding a job at a warehouse owned by the Japanese Yakuza patriarch Shuji Sawamoto (Ryo Ishibashi) was more than just a job. New guys were told to be respectful and keep the old ways of the family.
The leader of the Italian Mafia, Dino Campanela (Michael Nouri) orders an attack on Shuji Sawamoto, a high placed representative of the Yakuza in the U.S. The lowly new guy saves his life and Shuji Sawamoto wants him to work for the Yakuza. This is a most important point in the film. His response may change everything in his life.
Nick (Viggo Mortensen) is not really an ex con trying to start over. In reality he is an undercover FBI agent on a mission to infiltrate the Yakuza. Initially it is a rather simple case but the more he investigates the more he is immersed in the world of Yakuza. There he learns not everything is simple nor evil. He is indeed treated as family but he knows there is always a price.
The FBI is not happy with their undercover officer and want real information immediately. There is a strong rumor spreading that the Italian crime syndicate in the area is going to take down all of the Yakuza in one hellish massive slaughter. Eliminate their presence once and for all. The FBI decides to let the Italians and Japanese kill each other off and deal with anyone who survives.
Things Nick had thought of as good or bad – right or wrong now seemed to be an emotional haze of gray. He becomes truly involved with the Yakuza boss’ god daughter. The code the organization lives by is so different than anything he had imagined. The Yakuza was bad, period. Yet he had witnessed extraordinary acts of honor, kindness and selflessness. There were so many traditions, some in practice for two thousand years or more. Though organized crime was wrong and illegal he had never been treated with so much respect, and returned it openly. This Yakuza family was stronger than any family by birth. Everyone was looked after and taken care of – that’s all he knew. His peers would lay their life down for him because he was family.
Lines have blurred and Nick cannot reconcile the FBI aspect of his life with this assignment. When a shoot – out of major proportions seems about to erupt The FBI shuts down the investigation and calls Nick back from the field. He is furious they will allow so many people to die just to easily eliminate part of their problem. If the FBI plans go correctly they can make a move to hold sway of the Yakuza and Italians that will want to move in to soon to be unclaimed territory.
He has never found himself at odds with his superiors. They might not like some of his tactics but he got the job done. No police department had 1/10th of the respect and integrity shown by the Yakuza. And yet he did have a family of sorts in the FBI too. There were men and women he would protect with his life but now those relationships had become strained. Who could he trust? He is branded as a “rogue agent” but would they really shoot him? He cannot be certain of anything.
This topic is really an interesting one and requires more time to seem completely realistic. The film could have delved further into the Yakuza and Nick’s growing confusion about right and wrong even existing. It is Mortensen’s interaction with Shuji Sawamoto and his love interest that could have been taken further in a two part film. Not a sequel or reboot – just a longer movie.
“American Yakuza” is not a kick ass action movie. There is fighting and naturally guns but not to any great extent. Most of the action is Mortensen riding the edge, knowing sooner or later he was going to have to make a choice.
This one is well worth seeing and will be a mandatory purchase for all fans of Viggo Mortensen.
JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 7/10