Like a Dragon: Prologue chronicles the events that lead to Sega’s niche franchise and unless you’re a fan of Yakuza, I can’t recommend this wholeheartedly.
Based on the Yakuza series, Like a Dragon: Prologue is a direct-to-video film that never made it to America officially. To a certain extent, this is more than understandable, since in this part of the world, Yakuza was never that popular as in Japan (where they released this in DVD) and Europe (where this came out in the form of VOD episodes.) For those of you who have never heard of the short film, Like a Dragon: Prologue chronicles the events that lead to Sega’s niche franchise and unless you’re a fan of Yakuza, I can’t recommend this wholeheartedly.
The first part of the film takes place in 1970s and 1980s in the sunflower orphanage (also known as Shintaro Kazama) where we meet Kazume Kiryu, Akira Nikishikama, Yuko Nishikiyama and Yumi Sawamura. Basically, this origin story explains how some of the those orphans went on to become Yakuza members that are part of the series of video games. That’s where the second part of the film takes place, once Kazuma Kyriu announces that he and his friends are ready to found a Yakuza family. But some people in Tokyo’s red-light district have a problem with that and will do everything in their power to stop Kazuma and his friends.
Unlike most of the video game movies out there (especially Hollywood blockbusters like Resident Evil or Mortal Kombat) which rely on the popularity of their respective franchises, Like a Dragon: Prologue aims at an awfully specific audience. In other words, I shouldn’t be telling you if you should watch this or not, since that depends on your familiarity (or lack thereof) with the games. Despite its questionable quality, this direct-to-video movie is part of the franchise and I know fans will probably enjoy it, if only because it’s an obscure part of Yakuza.
The English version of Like a Dragon: Prologue came out in Europe as a series of 10-minute trailers and it goal was twofold: on the one hand, it would promote the upcoming PlayStation 2 game and, on the other hand, it would provide a backstory so people would know what Yakuza is all about. I have no idea if Like a Dragon: Prologue succeeded, but for the most part, this is a dull, cheesy and poorly acted short movie. It’s definitely not worth to unearth a rare copy of this film just out of interest (that sounds both time-consuming and expensive.)
As you’d expect from an origin story, the short movie is filled with extremely specific references to the game and unless you’ve play it (or intend to do so in the near future,) most of them will go over your head. To a certain extent, Yakuza’s campy and corny qualities make this feel like a fan fiction or a film a student wrote, directed and shot in his free time with this friends. That shouldn’t be taken as an insult, since this production is a product proper of a specific time and place and some of its parts are probably lost in translation.
In the end, fans of the Yakuza series should dig up Like a Dragon (YouTube is probably your best option) and watch it. Everyone else, look this up at your own risk, but if you’re not fans of the source material, I wouldn’t even bother.