Takashi Miike. Depending on the horror fan, Miike is either a genius director or just plain crazy. After seeing Audition, Ichi The Killer, and sitting through his Masters Of Horror episode “Imprint”, I’m still unsure of what to make of the man. There’s no doubt that he’s talented, but the off-the-wall craziness and his obsession with pushing the boundaries in gory moments are definitely things that divide fans. With his return to the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, Miike unleashed Yakuza Apocalypse. ‘Unleashed’ couldn’t be more apropos. This is one crazy film, in good and bad ways.
Yakuza boss Genyō Kamiura (Lily Franky) is known to be one of the most ruthless men ever in the crime syndicate. He also happens to be a vampire. Or was, as he is betrayed and decapitated by his own men after refusing to return to the international syndicate. After witnessing Kamiura being killed, his protégé Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) is bitten by Kamiura’s head, receiving his vampire power. With his newfound powers, Kageyama goes on a path of revenge for his boss’ death, leading up to a confrontation with the man behind the assassination, the mysterious Kaeru-kun.
If you thought that the synopsis was nuts, that’s only the start. Miike has once again gone off the deep end with pretty much everything in Yakuza Apocalypse. That’s a good thing, mind you. Being treated to a feast for the eyes and ears with ridiculous scenes involving blood showers, slickly-choreographed fight scenes mixed with cranked-up sounds of the action is just a start. Miike forgets to take his meds, and gives us absurdities such as prisoners being confined to a knitting circle for later feeding by Kamiura (“Break a leg, guys” has never been more hilarious), a beaked kappa demon, schoolgirl yakuza, and the appearance of Kaeru-kun dressed in an amusement park frog costume beating the snot out of other yakuza. The visual effects are just the same in their absurdity. I could mention more, but that would be spoiling the fun.
Predictably (if you can call anything in this film predictable), the acting is as ridiculous and over-the-top as the visuals. Granted, if any of these guys played it straight, they’d stick out like a sore thumb. That said, Ichihara does a good job in selling this entire film as our main protagonist. He also pulls off his impressive martial arts skills with little effort. Fans of The Raid (including myself!) will get an initial kick out of seeing Yayan Ruhian dressed as a geeky otaku and busting out his moves, but his stuff is largely wasted on stuntmen and the editing. Really, that leads into the main problem with Miike’s latest effort.
The big issue with Yakuza Apocalypse is that it’s often too scatterbrained in its progression. Writer Yoshitaka Yamaguchi admitted to have scribbled his ideas on a napkin, and it shows. Too often the film throws in characters, ideas, and the absurd into the mix, which has the plot progression (yes, it exists) grind to a halt. And what was introduced initially is put to the side in favour of the new wacky thing. Then that gets put to the side. Eventually, what was fun and kinetic at the start quickly devolves into overkill and becomes a chore to sit through. The addition of friends and/or alcohol would probably help (which is probably what Miike intended), but even at almost two hours of watching non-sequiters, you’d be hard-pressed to keep up with this film, sober or otherwise. Even in the film’s final battle, which turns into a Godzilla parody of giant monsters duking it out, I was getting bored with the flood of crazy.
Yakuza Apocalypse is far removed from Miike’s earlier horror films in tone, but still manages to retain the over-the-top violence and black humour. Miike successfully supplants the darker tone with more “light-hearted” bizarre imagery. Unfortunately, the constant throwing in of increasingly weird ideas backfires by the midway point, as there’s simply just too much going on to keep your attention. It’s a schizophrenic and fun high-speed Ferrari ride, but even that starts to tire out with the constant influx of ideas with little plot progression. Fans of Miike’s previous works will feel right at home, although they will probably feel exhausted like the rest of us by the end.