Fantasia 2021: Office Royale
Injecting the over-the-top energy of the Yakuza video games into an all-female fight club where the winners climb the corporate ladder, Office Royale is a dizzying amount of fun. The action is absurdly brutal given the setting, but due to its lighthearted nature, Kazuaki Seki’s latest is a burst of adrenaline with a heaping of humor to give itself a unique flavor of chaos.
Following the mild-mannered Naoko (Mei Nagano) as she tries to live her life as an ordinary office worker, she suddenly becomes best friends with Ran (Alice Hirose) – a terrible office worker but the best fighter the office has ever seen. As she takes down the rest of the cliques within their work, she becomes focused on becoming a better worker until other corporations hear rumors of her physical prowess.
The amount of fights in Office Royale are bountiful, giving plenty of room for badass moments for every character in the film. The way the fights are shot are again very akin to the Yakuza franchise. Brawls with Ran against multiple opponents are shot with a kinetic energy, tons of banter in between, and are given visual touches to make everything feel slightly supernatural. The best part is that the film never lets up, even when it takes a breather to provide exposition, it comes back with just as much energy for its fights.
While on the one hand all of the action is incredible, there’s something to be desired about the film’s structure. By the time the third act rolls around, the climax of the film feels like it already happened. Focus is shifted away from corporations waging war against each other through streetfights to characters proving their mettle for their own personal reasons. It’s where Office Royale loses the solid footing it has as none of the characters are particularly engaging outside of fights. The momentum falters, but is made up for with the kinetic action.
Fortunately, there’s rarely a moment outside of a brawl. During fights is when the energy is at its peak, especially once other corporations are involved. Ken’ichi Endô (The Raid 2) is particularly captivating as the head of a corporation that seeks an audience against Ran. Dressed in drag, along with three of his top fighters, he’s a riot and is when the film is at its most insane and delirious.
The premise itself is worth the price of admission, and realized in such a way that makes Office Royale feel like an alternate universe version of meritocracy. Nobody in the film is in a high position because they were born into it or had connections. Instead, the corporate ladder is a new challenger stronger than the last. It’s an absolutely delightful concept that happens to also gives way to the idea that you are not determined by the lot you’re given in life, instead finding success from what you’re willing to do to achieve it.
Even at its lowest moments, Office Royale rides the highs from its dynamic action scenes to more than make up for its slight missteps. When everything converges and the film fully realizes its ingenious conceit, there’s no letting go of that joy in watching office workers break necks and let loose.