Amazon's Yakuza TV Series Should Be an Easy Slam Dunk Adaption

The Dragon Rises.

Like a Dragon: Yakuza
Amazon MGM Studios

It feels like we’ve entered a golden age for video game adaptions between the likes of Fallout, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Last of Us, Arcane, and many more. The list of not just good but genuinely great adaptions keeps on growing, and hopefully we’ll have a new one to add to that list this year. Amazon has announced a live-action adaption of Sega’s cult classic series Yakuza, and it already has a release date of October 25. Seeing the show launch so soon is surprising, but if there’s one video game series that feels like the perfect fit for television, it’s Yakuza. It could, and should, be a slam dunk for Prime Video, which is already riding high on the success of the Fallout series.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Yakuza series follows a notorious gangster named Kazuma Kiryu, also known by his nickname The Dragon of Dojima. Most of the series chronicles Kiryu’s rise in Japan’s largest criminal organization, the Tojo Clan, and then his unsuccessful efforts to leave the Yakuza life. From the initial details, it seems the show will adapt the events of the first game across six episodes. Just like the game, the story will have a time jump, taking place in 1995 and then 2005.

Yakuza’s narrative structure has always been similar to a serialized drama, with a heavy focus on character relationships, making it a perfect fit for television.


What makes Yakuza such a perfect fit for television, is that the series is already structured like a serialized drama. Yakuza bears a ton of similarities to shows like Tokyo Vice or even The Sopranos, with stories that play out across decades and show how not only the characters change, but the city and society around them also changes. A huge theme of the series, especially in recent years, is how the modern world is leaving these Yakuza behind, and they struggle to find meaningful life outside of the criminal underworld.

That’s an inherently compelling setup that leads to some fascinating character explorations. Like with The Sopranos, Kiryu and the rest of the cast are highly complex and emotional characters, not just stoic gangsters. The series drama-laden stories explore the nature of humanity, how people use physical force as a crutch, and finding your place in the world.

Theese are all themes perfectly fit for a big-budget television show, but the real challenge Amazon’s Yakuza faces, is threading the needle between the series’ high-intensity drama and goofy humor. Yakuza is notorious for its completely off-the-wall humor, much of which is displayed in side quests. This is the series that has you helping a dominatrix learn how to be more assertive, and fight a rogue chimpanzee driving a construction vehicle.

Yakuza is a series where one minute you’re stopping a takeover of a massive criminal organization, and the next you’re racing miniature cars.


Yakuza’s unique blend of the serious and absurd is what gives the series its soul, and it’s absolutely vital that the television series captures the right tone. But again, that’s what makes the promise of an adaption so tantalizing. Earlier this year, Amazon’s Fallout series just perfectly managed to capture the gleeful chaos of that game series perfectly, while still managing to weave an emotional story.

With Like a Dragon: Yakuza, the team behind the adaption certainly inspires confidence that it’ll be done right. The series is directed by Japanese director Masaharu Take, best known for pulpy films like 100 Yen Love. Kiryu is being played by Ryoma Takeuchi, who’s probably best known for appearing in a number of Kamen Rider projects, including playing the main character of Kamen Rider Drive. That dynamic duo has the chops needed to bring Yakuza to life, with both the director and main actor having a wealth of experience in bringing both serious and silly ideas to life.

Kiryu’s actor is best known for his work in Kamen Rider, a series that also does a fantastic job of combining silly over-the-top action with serious storytelling.

Toei Company

In a press release for the show’s announcement, executive producer of the Yakuza series Masayoshi Yokoyama says, “Since the day I first put pen to paper on the original Yakuza's script, I've never once thought about revisiting any of my work on the series. It's because I understand all too well the challenges and hardships that come with remaking a finished title. However, if I were ever sent to the past through some kind of cosmic joke, this is the experience I'd want to create.”

While a creator is obviously going to want to speak positively about any upcoming experience, Yokoyama has been with the Yakuza franchise every step of the way. Seeing his praise, and even involvement, is yet another good sign. Ultimately, if this adaption manages to land things right it shows that Amazon “gets” how to make good video game adaptions, involving the game’s creators in integral ways, while providing directors and actors room to bring their own interpretations. With Yakuza we dont know how intimately Yokoyama was involved, and likey wont until the show premieres, but this at least shows the creative forces behind the new series care about his input.

The serialized structure of Yakuza and its trademark brand of humor should have a seamless transition to prestige TV. It’s practically a match made in heaven. If things, somehow, go awry, it won’t be the source material’s fault.

Like a Dragon: Yakuza premieres on October 25 exclusively on Prime Video.

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