Kamurocho Travelogue #2 – On Prequels and Remakes

I have a proposition: there is no good place to start with the Yakuza series in 2021.

This isn’t true of course. There are plenty of great places: there’s the chronological prequel, Yakuza 0, or the remake of the original game, Yakuza Kiwami. There’s the most recent game in the series, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which is the first time the original protagonist has been left aside entirely and a new character takes the lead for a completely fresh introduction. It’s also the first game to ditch the real-time brawling that made it famous and go with turn-based, JRPG style battles. There’s even a spin-off, Judgement, that is just now getting a sequel, that carries on the brawling legacy but features more of a private detective flavour, and again stars an original character.

A vintage Kazuma Kiryu [Yakuza 0 / Sega]

So why would I argue there’s no good place to start?

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Kamurocho Travelogue #1 — An Introduction

Pop your collars, fill your pockets with Staminam, and get ready: we’re going back to Kamurocho–

Kamurocho, 2005 [Yakuza Kiwami / Sega]

–you do know Kamurocho, don’t you? The heart of Sega’s long-running Yakuza series, modelled closely on Tokyo’s Kabukicho – so closely that a younger me was able to navigate around Shinjuku based on the location of the Don Quijote store prominently featured in the original game. Kamurocho, first introduced in Yakuza (aka 龍が如く, “Ryū ga Gotoku” or “Like a Dragon” in its native Japan), has evolved and changed a great deal since 2005. Like a real city, businesses close, buildings get knocked down, streets change, and people come and go. Unlike a real city, it also faces appearances across console generations and multiple game engines, adding additional quirks in the way we, as visitors, experience it.

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The Real Cop Influencers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

I don’t always write about Japanese cinema. This week I have a piece on fanbyte covering the uncomfortable relationship between Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and some of the real-life veterans featured as playable characters:

Most of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s “operators” are wholly fictional characters created for multiplayer and Warzone battle royale. A few are drawn from the game’s narrative campaign. A handful, though, are modeled closely on real life figures. I wanted to know more about the people these characters were based on, and investigating their background took me on a strange journey into the marketing of tactical training and equipment — and what it means when that marketing makes it into one of the biggest gaming franchises on the planet.

Keep reading over on fanbyte.com

Ghost of Tsushima Impressions

Barring any late-breaking delays – and really, anything could happen with the coronavirus pandemic not going anywhere any time soon – 2020 will be the final year of the PS4. The final year of a platform is often when developers deliver their finest work, able to leverage a whole console generation of technical know-how. This summer just gave us two swansongs in quick succession: Naughty Dog’s gruelling The Last of Us Part II, closely followed by Sucker Punch’s samurai cinema-inspired Ghost of Tsushima.

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Yakuza Zero (A Kino 893 x TGLG Review)

It is not my intention, still early in the run of this blog on Japanese cinema, to branch too yakuzazero-coverwildly into other areas. That said, I do think there are other, relevant things that could be discussed: American re-edits or remakes of Japanese productions, books on the subject, and videogames that draw from the history of film. There’s one series that’s particularly dear to me: SEGA’s Yakuza (龍が如く/ Ryū ga Gotoku). First launching in Japan in 2005 and 2006 in the West, the series transplants recognisable yakuza movie tropes onto a long-running videogame franchise. It’s easy to see the influence Japanese cinema of the ‘60s and ‘70s has had on it, from casting Tetsuya Watari (star of the Outlaw VIP series) as the protagonist’s yakuza mentor Shintaro Kazama, to the dramatic, freeze-frame splash screens that list the various characters’ names, ranks, and affiliations – a stylish technique ripped straight from Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity.

2017 has seen the belated, but extremely welcome, Western release of Yakuza Zero (originally launching in Japan in March 2015). Set in 1988 at the height of the Japanese Bubble Economy, the game is both a prequel to the series and the first non-spin off released on the PlayStation 4, making it an excellent jumping on point for newcomers.

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Sweet Home (1989) (A Kino 893 x TGLG Review)

Months before I started this film blog, I recorded a podcast on Sweet Home (1989). It’s a relatively obscure Japanese horror movie from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa with one particular claim to fame: there’s a Famicom game (that’s the Japanese version of sweethomethe NES, Nintendo’s first console) also titled Sweet Home based on the film. That game essentially kicks off the “survival horror” genre, with developer Capcom going on to create the far more famous Resident Evil / Biohazard series; the first Resident Evil, set in a dilapidated mansion, takes a lot of inspiration from Sweet Home.

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