For those among us who know him only for cult TV export Takeshi’s Castle, the news that Takeshi Kitano has just made an absurdist comedy might not be surprising.
For fans of both his double-act “Beat” persona and his work starring in/directing the resurrected Zatoichi franchise, Ryūzō and His Seven Henchmen promises cinematic mana.
Starring Tatsuya Fuji as the fierce, if somewhat delusional Ryūzō — an astute bit of casting — the film is about what happens when a retired Yakuza member gets sick of the lack of respect being shown to him and his former associates and decides to get the band back together.
Rather than a drummer and a bass player, the band — christened the Dragon One League (“League” serving to differentiate them from a popular food delivery service) — includes of Mokichi the Toilet Assassin (Akira Nakao), now a compulsive con artist, Ichizo the Cane Man (Ben Hiura), etc.
Given the hallmarks on display the geriatric septet are arguably more Samurai than gangster, no matter how many fingers they might be missing or their attempts to menace their way into free sake.
Excluding the black-and-white flashbacks that showcase their former talents, Ryūzō is surprisingly light on violence — even the supposedly ruthless young turks seem surprisingly averse to it. Kitano seems less concerned with the business of getting old than simply using the tropes of the genre in a generally broad comic way.
Ryūzō himself is a blustering braggart, as are the rest of the Hall of Fame to one degree or another, but they all at least live by the Bushido code — or at least as close they can in a world where even the motorcycle gangs have gone corporate.
For the most part the film seems to content to put us through a series of sketches, like inadvertently making Ryūzō’s strait-laced son (Masanobu Katsumura) or the presence of Yasu (Akira Onodera), an over-the-hill would-be Kamikaze. Culminating in a showdown/car chase that seems to take its cues more from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Ryūzō and His Seven Henchmen is a light knockabout affair that, at 125 minutes, becomes slightly long-winded in the final telling.
Substituting silliness for bloodiness, the film’s unlikely to win any converts but it’ll do in an owarai pinch.