One Percenter

2023 / 85m - Japan
One Percenter poster

A new Yudai Yamaguchi film is always something to look forward to, especially when it comes with accolades. One Percenter has been making a name for itself in the festival circuit, now it's time for the home market to catch up. Yamaguchi's latest is a bona fide action film, a brawler with and built around Tak Sakaguchi. It's pure genre fare and people who don't have much affinity with the action genre should probably think twice about seeking it out. Others would do well to give it a go because it is one of the better action films I've seen in quite a while.

screencap of One Percenter

Yudai Yamaguchi is sometimes lumped in with the Sushi Typhoon crew, but he's more than an effects man turned horror director. Sure enough, films like Deadball and Meatball Machine fit the bonkers splatter vibe perfectly, but Yamaguchi's oeuvre is more than just crazy horror. He's also a pretty capable comedy director, and with an entry in the High & Low franchise, he's shown that he can handle action if needed. He's a real genre buff and One Percenter takes full advantage of his skills. It's a core action film, but it's also a little bit more than that.

While there are clear differences, the film reminded me a lot of El Mechri's JCVD, in the way that it is En tie u constructed around its primary action star. Tak Sakaguchi doesn't actually play himself here, but that line seems to be razor-thin, and his character in One Percenter appears in many ways linked to his real-life persona. It gives the film an extra dimension, not in the least because Sakaguchi portrays a pretty interesting character. The plot may be pretty silly and cheesy, yet the struggles of the protagonist are anything but mundane.

Takuma Toshiro is a respected action star who made a name for himself with his first feature film. He developed a unique action style, but that wasn't enough to keep his career afloat, as his ambitions proved too risky for many a producer. Toshiro never shelved his dream, and when all but one of his disciples abandons him, he figures it's time to make one final push. He is willing to go indie and produce the film himself, but when he goes scouting for locations he ends up in the middle of a Yakuza dispute. Toshiro sees it as a sign and orders his only remaining pupil to start filming.

screencap of One Percenter

Yamaguchi is known for and used to handling small budgets, and I'm betting One Percenter probably didn't have that much cash to burn through either, but the film never looks as if Yamaguchi was struggling. The camera work is very dynamic (also outside of the action scenes) and the use of light and color is lovely. The film isn't going to win any prizes for originality with its look, but it's a great example of how you don't have to skimp on the cinematography, even when doing a low-budget action flick. This is by far one of Yamaguchi's best-looking films.

The score on the other hand is no doubt the weakest part of the film. I had to go back afterward to check on the actual music, which is never a good sign. It also means the score isn't actively in the way of the film, but that's a rather low bar right there. What you're getting is some very generic action music, the kind that is tailored to raise adrenaline, it's just not very effective at its job. It resides in the background for most of the time, and even when it is forced into a more prominent role, it fails to draw any attention to itself. Yamaguchi could've done more with it.

A lot hinges on Sakaguchi's performance, it's a good thing then that he was able to rise above himself. He'll never be the best actor, but he certainly has plenty of flair, and playing a role so close to his real self made things a bit easier. He's great as the single-minded perfectionist who lives for his job and wants to stick out from the crowd. Also a big kudos to the villains, Kanon Harumi in particular puts in a commendable performance. Of course, these aren't award-winning performances, but they are essential in the overall success of the film, and for an action flick, that isn't as trivial as it sounds.

screencap of One Percenter

There are some leaps of faith present in the plot, but despite its somewhat serious premise the film never feels like it is meant to be taken too seriously. It's a precarious balance, especially for a core genre film, but Yamaguchi handles it well. Sakaguchi's plight comes off as being somewhat realistic and adds the necessary weight to his character, other than that the film is zany and wild enough to succeed as a fun brawler. It's a smart way for One Percenter to differentiate itself from a slew of similar films, and it does so with an appropriate amount of gusto.

Despite a loftier premise and some interesting narrative and stylistic touches, One Perfecter is a purebred action film with mangaesque influences, so it's best to expect exactly that. All the rest is just a bonus. The cinematography is on point, the performances are way above average and the action scenes are vibrant, everything is there to become a niche favorite. Yudai Yamaguchi once again proves himself a formidable genre director, delivering the goods while piling on a little extra to help set his film apart. An easy recommendation for action fans.