Hamon: Yakuza Boogie
Michael Potts | 1/11/2017
A Japanese buddy cop film for gangsters, Hamon: Yakuza Boogie gives audiences a forgettable, but entertaining ride chocked full of shady plots, double crosses and hijinks, with humour sprinkled in amongst.
The story, adapted from a novel by Hiroyuki Kurokawa, sees a naïve slacker and self-proclaimed ‘civilian’ (though he is the son of a late yakuza boss), Kei Ninomiya (Yu Yokoyama), works as a middle man between construction companies and the Osaka yakuza. His main gang contact is Kuwahara (Kuranosuke Sasaki), a man who is a strange mix between a hot-headed brute and a classy, street smart operator, with both ultimately answer to clan leader Shimada (Jun Kunimura), a close friend of Kei’s father. Through Kei’s gullibility, Shimada falls prey to an investment scam ostensibly run by movie producer, Koshimizu (Isao Hashizume), and bringing with it the involvement of a large rival yakuza clan, the Takizawas. With that, it’s up to Kei and Kuwahara to hunt down the fraudster and get the money back.
The film’s greatest strengths are the constant plotting of the various different players, with up to three different parties scheming against each other at any given time. There are plenty of clever tricks, gutsy bluffs and at times brutal violence to keep you interested. Even with all the different plans devised by the different gangsters and shysters, nothing ever feels overblown or excessively elaborate. The story stays grounded despite some wacky moments. Throughout the mind games and violence, it is fun to see Kei grow increasingly skilful at the sort of shady tactics and techniques that the underworld game requires. For his part, Sasaki as Kuwahara does well to shift from suave intimidator to violent brawler in quick fashion. His fight scenes are highlight. Koshimiza is also something of a wild card and it’s seldom clear how truthful he is being about anything.
The other main draw is the back and forth between odd couple Kei and Kuwahara. What starts off as a standover relationship, with the gangster ordering the hapless Ninomiya around, gradually transforms into a more mutual partnership of at least dependence, if not respect. This growing bond parallels Kei’s own development as a more reliable man, though this character arc in itself is a familiar one which doesn’t put anything particularly unique on the table. Kuwahara is definitely the more entertaining of the two characters. The two work best when on screen together instead of separately, but of the duo it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, only the yakuza who can carry a scene without his counterpart.
On that note, the acting in Hamon is mostly standard fare – by and large it’s decent but nothing to write home about, though the two leads do have some interesting chemistry and . The same can be said of the music, which is barely noticeable, save for one recurring song that forms part of the thematic backbone of the story. To be clear, neither of these aspects are outright flaws in the film; rather, they’re simply not drawcards for it outside Kuwahara and his scenes with Kei.
Perhaps Hamon: Yakuza Boogie’s greatest weakness is its lack of lasting impact. It could possibly have benefitted more from focussing down on just one of its two highlights. But in the end that’s not the film we have here. Everything else aside, this film is a good deal of fun and is worth a watch. Catch it while you can at the Japanese Film Festival.