Takashi Miike has a global reputation as a purveyor of the wild, the edgy, the transgressive. In fact, the bulk of the Japanese director’s extensive filmography is more traditional fare, despite his standing as the international festival circuit’s enfante terrible. Yakuza Apocalypse, however, is exactly the kind of film you think of when you think of Takashi Miike.
There are yakuza, vampires, monsters, bizarre leaps in logic – you name it, it’s in here. All with cartoonish style.
The plot revolves around Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), a low-rank yakuza in the employ of legendary boss Kamiura. Kageyama struggles for respect, especially given his skin is too sensitive to receive the characteristic yakuza tattoos. He, in turn admires Kamiura for the way he enforces the yakuza to act as protectors of the people, helping local businesses and working for the community.
Then, a pair of religious assassins come to town, targeting Kamiura…because he is a vampire. They are successful, but Kamiura manages to bite – and pass his vampirism on to – Kageyama. But the younger man lacks the knowledge and discipline of his employer and bites other yakuza almost immediately. Who then bite others. And suddenly, the town is in danger of being overrun by yakuza vampires.
While there may seem cause for celebration for Miike to return to the unhinged anything-goes Midnight Movie style that made his name internationally, this seems to be too much of a good thing. Yakuza Apocalypse keep adding more and more wacky elements to the mix – from Kamiura’s knitting circle of chained prisoners who also act as his personal blood bank to a shiny truck laden with chain-guns to the finale – a cartoonish mess the includes deliberately obvious toy models, explosions and a martial arts expert creature that is a guy in a big soft toy costume.
The constant assault of the ridiculous overwhelms any points the film may be trying to make – and there does seem to be layers here. But, for example, any parallels being drawn from the idea of thieves struggling when everyone is a thief are undercut when the solution involves a greenhouse where ‘civilians’ are grown in super-speed by a yakuza chief with her brain leaking out of her ears.
Similarly, it is hard to be invested in the character aspects of the film. Hayato Ichihara does his best to portray Kageyama as a troubled man trying to do his best, but the cartoonish elements around him mean he looks more like someone who doesn’t get the joke at his expense.
Yakuza Apocalypse is never less than entertaining, and may be at its best accompanied by a group of friends and some drinks, but here the style really does devour the substance. Superficial fun at best.