Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi
Cast: Hayato Ichihara, Riko Narumi, Lily Franky, Reiko Takashima, Sho Aoyagi, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Yayan Ruhian, Mio Yuki, Pierre Taki, Denden, Yuki Sakurai
Running Time: 125 min.
By Kyle Warner
Even in the wild and diverse filmography of director Takashi Miike, Yakuza Apocalypse is one weird movie. What’s interesting is how it keeps its lunacy hidden away like a dirty secret until you feel like you’re settled in for a crime/horror hybrid, then WHAM! the movie loses its mind, there’s blood bank bad guys knitting sweaters in the basement, a woman’s head springs a leak, and a giant frog monster (“the world’s toughest terrorist”) comes to town and ruins everybody’s day. Truly, from the very beginning it was clear that Yakuza Apocalypse was going to be different – in the opening, Lily Franky’s gang boss character gets shot a hundred times, kills dozens of bad guys, and then goes to suck blood from a woman’s neck to regain his strength – but nothing in those opening moments can prepare you for how completely unhinged Miike’s vision soon becomes.
Takashi Miike, the man behind such bizarre features as The Happiness of the Katakuris, Gozo, Zebraman, Visitor Q, and Izo, is no stranger to weirdo entertainment. Since going mainstream and directing big budget action movies, game adaptations, and remakes of classic samurai pictures, the extreme features that Miike built his name on have come with less regularity. Maybe he was itching for a chance to do something wild again, because Yakuza Apocalypse is filled to the brim with crazy ideas. The film won’t work for everyone, but for the right audience Yakuza Apocalypse rarely goes five minutes without another moment of WTF bewilderment and hilarious insanity.
Young mid-level yakuza Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara) wants to be just like his boss (Lily Franky) but has no idea that his boss is secretly a vampire. When villains from the boss’s past come asking him to return to the fold, the boss refuses and is murdered as a result. In his dying moments, the boss passes on the vampire blood to Kagayama, thus empowering him with super strength and cursing him with a thirst for human blood. Thing is, when Kagayama inevitably bites people to drink their blood, they don’t just become vampires… they become yakuza vampires. And that’s the main joke at the center of the film. It’s clear from the very start that Miike basically has zero interest in either staying true to vampire myths or creating his own. Sure, there’s plenty of blood drinking, but this is a movie about yakuza, not vampires. The “plot” comes together when Kagayama’s old crime family tries to push civilians around, only to find that the civvies are recently turned yakuza vampires – basically it’s become a town full of thugs, with the yakuza vampire gene spreading like an obnoxious plague. As you’d expect from Takashi Miike, the film is violent and sometimes quite disturbing, but he manages to mine a surprising amount of hilarity from the concept.
Hayato Ichihara (All About Lily Chou-Chou) is cool as Kagayama but there’s not much more to his character other than that he’s really cool. Lily Franky, best known for comedies and dramas such as 2013’s Like Father, Like Son, is not who you’d expect to play a badass gangster, but he pulls it off by simply not trying too hard. Also among the cast is The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian, here playing a martial artist working for the bad guys. Often dressed like a nerdy tourist, Ruhian is a fun addition to the cast as he gets to have a couple decent fights and also play some comedy.
There’s a lot of fun to be had in Yakuza Apocalypse but it’s never very clear what the stakes are. The weird bad guys hang around even after killing the boss but… why? What’s their plan? They’re at odds with Kagayama, but it’s never clear why they want him dead or what they hope to achieve. In the finale, things truly take an apocalyptic turn, but the reasoning for this is also a mystery. At some point, half-laughing and half-mad, I screamed at the TV, “What the hell is going on?” Merely 30 seconds later, the film’s know-it-all character echoed my question by crying out, “What is happening?!” When the film’s know-it-all master of exposition is clueless, that’s your sign that the film is just winging it from that point on.
Miike seems to understand that he’s taken the concept just as far as it can go in the end. Right as the film goes completely over the edge, it cuts to black and rolls the end credits to the tune of Japanese hard rock band Knock Out Monkey. We’re denied a “proper ending.”
However much I enjoyed the movie, however much I might’ve laughed at times, there’s no denying that some of the film comes across as half-baked. And that’s disappointing, because much of the rest of the film shows some kind of deranged inspiration. The lack of clear goals for the characters, the lack of a true ending, and a few questionable inclusions hold Yakuza Apocalypse back from being a complete success.
I liked this, I did. It’s one of those movies where I kind of wish I could turn off my inner-critic and just enjoy the film for what it is and forgive it for what it’s not. And if you’re not lucky enough to connect with the film’s deranged sense of humor, then you’re going to be even less forgiving than I am. Yakuza Apocalypse is a dark comedy for a very particular sort of audience member. Working like a live-action cartoon brought to life by a mad man, it’s a one of a kind film, and it wears its flaws out in the open for everyone to see.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6.5/10