Ryuji the Yakuza (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:John Rose
Review Date: Thursday, December 02, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A tale of a hardboiled yakuza member with a heart of justice.
What They Say
Behind a bloody veil of mystery, the puppetmasters of the Yakuza secretly control Japan. Yet for all their power, the Yakuza are governed by their own codes of loyalty and honor, and there are those who are seen not as criminals, but heroes. Ryuji Ogami, of the Goda-gumi, is one such enigma: torn between the worlds of Bullets and Bushido, his hidden compassion perfectly balances the brutal force of his lethal iron hand. If your cause is just, it is said, seek out Ryuji. But endanger those he cherishes, like young club hostess Megumi and his junior Kazuki, and he will find you. And when the code of the Yakuza is violated by his own gang, Ryuji's own code will leave him no choice. The city will burn as the deadliest man in Yokohama takes on his own in Ryuji The Yakuza! the complete collection!
The Review!
The only tack available on this release is a 2.0 Japanese track. Like other Switchblade releases the track itself is a basic one with little in the way of frills but competently done with no dropouts or distortions noticeable. Most of the dialogue is split between the front three speakers which adds a touch of depth but not much directionality to the presentation though the audio track does a good job of separation so nothing audio wise winds up being buried by something else present in the audio track.

Originally created in 2008 by a company whose specialty involves digital downloads the feature is presented in 16:9 ratio. The video doesn’t fare as well as the audio as there is dot crawl, color bleed, blocking noise and softness present throughout the feature though this may be a reflection of however the company filmed it focusing on making it presentable for computer downloads more than an HD setup.

The front of the cover features a close up of Ryuji in his suit against a yellow and orange backdrop that features a bridge and a defeated opponent lying on the ground. The title is center of the cover with the word “Ryuji” being blocking outlines over the part which overlaps the bridge but orange red on the parts that overlap the picture of Ryuji. The back has a picture of the shipping docks where some of the story takes place as well as four stills from the series and a black and white shot of Ryuji. The DVD label features a close up of some of the cranes from the shipping dock shown on the back also with yellow orange background. The title “Ryuji” mimics the DVD cover’s presentation of outline with deep orange used inside those lines later in the title.

The menu is a static affair featuring an image of Ryuji on the right against the orange black colored shipping dock cranes while part of the opening theme plays in the background. “Ryuji the Yakuza” is written in white over the individual listings for the four episodes.  The menu is quick to respond to selections chosen and there is a small deep orange dot that appears over which option is currently highlighted.

This feature contains no extras

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Ryuji the yakuza is a four episode series that follows some of the events of a high ranking member of the criminal enterprise. As is not uncommon with these types of stories what the audience is shown is that Ryuji has a strong sense of justice despite his occupation and often sets about saving those around him. No time is spent showing the gangster going around doing actual gangster stuff (well, other than beating down those who stand against him but it is for a good cause and all) so it is more than a little on the idealized side of things to make the main character connect with the audience better.
The first episode starts as Ryuji Ogami is walking the streets of his territory with his faithful friend/subordinate Kazuki Kishida by his side. The two come across a young woman being harassed by 3 men which prompts Ryuji to step in and help her. At three on one the fight is decidedly one sided as Ryuji saves the woman with ease demonstrating his fighting prowess. Ryuji and Kazuki then visit their favorite little bar where they are regulars. The bar is run by a brother (Yuichi) and sister (Hiromi) though the sister distrusts Ryuji because of his being yakuza.
A subplot is introduced as Ryuji is at a host club later in the evening. A new server (Megumi) has just arrived and she bares a striking resemblance to a woman Ryuji used to know and still watches old film recordings that he made of. In flashback the audience is shown that she died in a violent manner in their apartment and he discovered her body. This subplot will be used throughout the four episodes so little more is touched on it right away. Meanwhile Hiromi finds herself being harassed by a small gang when a rather timid man comes to her rescue. Hiromi falls for him after he manages to bluff the gang off but soon discovers she is over her head in a blackmail situation. As her brother prepares to help her out he passes Ryuji in the street who sees that something is wrong. After a confrontation with the siblings Ryuji sets out to make things right and the audience is introduced to a shadow player behind the scenes who is not happy with Ryuji’s interference.
The second episode opens with a gang wearing masks has been assaulting people including a police officer whose gun they steal. The next morning Ryuji is trying to shake off the reoccurring nightmare of finding the body of the women he loved by hitting the training gym he practices his fighting at. While he is doing that Kazuki is at the siblings bar having a date with a woman he met through a service and hitting it off well. The threads then show that the gang is taking orders from someone not shown and are planning to strike couples that night.
When Ryuji leaves the gym he encounters a police officer friend who is looking for info on this gang that stole the gun and hoping Ryuji’s organization had heard something he would be willing to share. Ryuji meets with the head of his group to find that the masked group is hunting on their turf and causing the police no end of strife and the boss wants it stopped. The audience also will recognize a face at the table from the previous episode. Ryuji was already hunting the masked group but when they assault Kazuki and his date the payback rises as Ryuji doubles down on his search for them and the price he will collect from them.
From here the story progresses as Ryuji has to deal with his inability to see Megumi separate from the woman of his past, Kazuki is still dealing with the results of the previous episode while a new person of need falls into his lap. Ryuji comes across a man being shaken down and becomes familiar with the man and his daughter. When the truth behind the man’s issue is laid bare after his daughters kidnapping will Ryuji be the only hope the man has? And what will happen as one of his fellow high ranking members is making noise about both Ryuji’s propensity to step into troubles he has no need to and his falling revenues as he seems to be doing less in regard to his yakuza activities.
The final episode brings things to a boil as Ryuji starts to come to terms with Megumi and deal with her as an individual and not just because of the woman in his past he sees in her. Ryuji then gets tangled in a web when he finds that a member of his group looks to be making political deals on his own and jeopardizing the group’s ability to work. When the tangled web pulls in Megumi and she is victim of a horrible assault Ryuji goes into a fight even he may not be able to walk away from but one that Ryuji principals will not allow him to avoid. Will Ryuji finally find that there are odds even he cannot overcome as he walks his conflicting path of personal ethics and yakuza loyalty?
Ryuji the Yakuza is a short series following a man of conscious and skimming over criminal activities that a real individual would be plagued with. Ryuji is a man of action and more a throwback to the old “nice” yakuza stereotype but it can make for a refreshing change of pace form the more realistic gangsters doing gangster things films. There is a healthy dose of action that doesn’t forget to try to work the humanity angle as well. Ryuji is a one man wrecking crew as the pieces of another’s machinations start to close around him and betrayal raises its ugly head. Given long odds Ryuji still won’t back down and charges ahead to keep his principles intact. Those who like a more rough and realistic approach to yakuza films won’t be all that satisfied here and the stories are a touch melodramatic but with the right characters that approach can work-and it does here.
In Summary:
Ryuji the yakuza is a rather light but still enjoyable tale of a yakuza man who champions the little guy despite his status in life. Granted it paints over the real nature of yakuza-particularly high ranking members-but that is something that often happens in fiction. The series works to establish a connection between Ryuji and the audience by showing him as an ethical man who has a horrible past that he is eventually tries to get past. The scoundrel with the good heart is a common theme and that may cause the series not to play as well to some others and the stories aren’t overly complicated. Still it is a fun little series with some nice characters and some action for fans of the genera.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B-
Video Rating: C+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: C
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 18 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Switchblade Pictures
MSRP: 19.98
Running time: 139
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2