Director: Yûdai Yamaguchi
Screenplay: Yûdai Yamaguchi
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Rumika Fukuda, Shô Aoyagi, Togo Ishii, Itsuji Itao, Keisuke Horibe, Kohei Fukuyama
Country: Japan
Running Time: 85 min
Year: 2023
BBFC Certificate: 15

Yûdai Yamaguchi’s first screenplay was for the cult classic action-horror movie Versus, which also served as the debut of actor and martial artist Tak Sakaguchi. The pair continued to collaborate in the years that followed, largely on ‘splatter’ films, with Yamaguchi moving into directing too. Sakaguchi ventured separately into other genres and some mainstream films along the way, but would frequently go back to his ‘roots’ alongside Yamaguchi.

Both actor and director took notable breaks from the industry though, with Sakaguchi publically ‘retiring’ for a few years between 2013 and 2016 and Yamaguchi also stepping back from filmmaking between 2017 and 2023. As such, there’s an extra meta-level to One Percenter (a.k.a. 1%er ワンパーセンター), Yamaguchi’s ‘comeback’ and the pair’s first film together since the short Max the Movie, due to it centring around an actor who falls off the radar for a while before finding a chance to make something special.

I say extra meta-level, because One Percenter has a few self-referential elements. The film sees Sakaguchi play Takuma Toshiro, an actor who, at the start of the film, expresses a dislike for overly choreographed, dance-like action choreography, instead calling for “real action”, something the actor believes in real life. Sakaguchi produced One Percenter, as well as starred in it. Supposedly his work on Re:Born using Yoshitaka Inagawa’s Zero Range Combat style helped inspire him to make this new film. He’d had the idea of “real action” on his mind ever since.

Going back to the plot of One Percenter, we jump forward several years and Toshiro is struggling for parts and is disillusioned with the industry, despite finding success with a film he made a decade or so ago.

He decides to take action and calls upon his young apprentice Akira (Kohei Fukuyama) to help him put together the first truly “real” action movie. Toshiro fails to drum up finances but, at least, talks an old acquaintance into letting him use an island housing an abandoned factory as a location.

Toshiro and Akira head to the location to scout it out but there they bump into another action-film crew (and one that Toshiro had fallen out with earlier). Whilst they argue about who has the right to be there, a much bigger problem falls on their laps.

It turns out the factory is also believed to be the place where a recently deceased yakuza boss has stashed a large volume of cocaine. As such, a couple of rival gangs are fighting over it, putting the two film crews in the middle of a battleground.

Rather than running and hiding though, Toshiro believes this is the chance for him to make his masterpiece, a literally real action movie. So he asks Akira to keep rolling whilst he puts his true martial arts skills to good practice.

Meanwhile, the yakuza wonder who the hell is taking out all their members.

With all the talk of “real action” in the film and even in a promotional ‘making of’ included on the disc, One Percenter has a lot to live up to in the action department. Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint.

The fights are admirably believable, with Toshiro using quick-thinking and fast but relatively straightforward moves to take down his opponents. He also uses props and clever techniques to turn fights in his favour. Most notably, there’s a scene where he uses a flashlight to distract and limit the vision of the yakuza he’s fighting, making it more believable that he could take on a large group at once. Yamaguchi’s script gives a valid excuse for a lack of gunfire too, explaining how the factory still contains extremely flammable material that could be ignited with a gunshot.

Another aspect that makes the action interesting is that Toshiro, whilst a skilled martial artist, isn’t a killer. So he works to carefully disable his foes, rather than kill them. In some ways, his actions can be seen as more cruel though, particularly the spinal injuries he doles out.

Sakaguchi brought a Jeet Kune Do master, Togo Ishii, onto the project, due to his great martial arts skills (he hadn’t acted before). Their shared talent and understanding allow the pair to deliver a fantastic climactic showdown. It’s one of the best on-screen fights I’ve seen in a new movie for a while.

The action is stylishly shot too, with drones put to considerably good use. One jaw-dropping shot has the camera fly around the factory whilst several fights take place, whizzing around corners, upstairs and between someone’s legs at one point.

Sadly, I didn’t feel the film was wholly successful away from its fight scenes though. The concept of Toshiro making a film out of his battle with the yakuza is often forgotten. This is partially explained later on after an important revelation but, for me, it simply meant one of the story’s more unique aspects felt underdeveloped.

Speaking of the “important revelation”, I felt this twist towards the end of the film was a little tacked on and muddled. I assume the end is supposed to be open to interpretation but, with the way it plays out, I found it more confusing than intriguing.

Arne Venema and Mike Leeder talk about how they think the film benefits repeated viewings, so I wonder if the twist would make more sense on rewatch. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to watch it twice before writing this review but I would love to give it another shot soon as I did enjoy the film a great deal, for the most part.

So, whilst I felt the film stumbled in places, I appreciated the twist One Percenter put on the generic action movie template. Yes, it could have done more with its concept but there’s enough originality here to make it worth your while. Plus, perhaps more importantly, as an action movie, it’s very impressive.


One Percenter is out on 11th March on region B Blu-ray, and VOD in the UK, released by Third Window Films. I watched the Blu-ray version and it looks suitably sharp, with pleasing colours and tones. The audio is solid too.

There are a few special features included:

– Audio Commentary by Arne Venema and Mike Leeder
– Making Of
– Trailers
– Reversible Sleeves

East Asian action commentary mainstays Mike Leeder and Arne Venema provide a track on the disc. They do a great job, discussing the careers of those involved and putting forward some theories about exactly what is going on in the film and how its final twist changes things the second time around.

In the 25-minute ‘making of’, Sakaguchi starts off by discussing the difference between “real action” and standard, overly choreographed fights. Being a producer of the film, it suggests the differentiation is something he’s particularly interested in. Sakaguchi also talks about why he brought Togo Ishii onto the project. Ishii is later interviewed himself, discussing his involvement and background. In amongst these interviews, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and also some shots of Ishii training at his dojo.

So, Third Window have put together a strong package for this hard-hitting action extravaganza. Martial arts movie fans should certainly pick it up.


One Percenter - Third Window
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