YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (2015) review
written by: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi
produced by: Yoshinori Chiba, Shin’ichirô Masuda, Shinjiro Nishimura & Misako Saka
directed by: Takashi Miike
rating: R (for strong bloody violence, a rape and language)
runtime: 115 min.
U.S. release date: June 20, 2015 and October 9, 2015 (limited)
In “Yakuza Apocalypse”, you’ll find a character who fries on egg in his red-hot palm and an energetic long-haired dude who obliterates his opponents with crazy martial arts skills while wearing glasses. Those are just a couple of absurd and ridiculous things I noticed while watching the latest film from prolific Japanese cult director Takashi Miike, which also includes an individual fighting in a giant frog suit. That gives you a sliver of an idea of what this bloody and silly action flick offers. Miike once again proves that his films are for a certain type of viewer. You know who you are.
Trying to keep track of what’s going on in “Yakuza Apocalypse” requires some extra strong sake. The film erupts in a flurry of carnage involving a flaying sword and the swishing sounds of splattering blood as a yakuza boss named Kamiursa (Lily Franky) dispenses with his attackers with ease. Neither blade nor bullet can harm him. What gives? He’s a vampire.
But hey, he’s earned a good deal of respect in his town as a powerful leader who protects and provides for civilians while dealing with criminal scum harshly. As much as he looks out for the little guy though, he still has a thirst for blood – but he’s got that covered by harvesting blood from a group of convicts he holds captive in a knitting circle. So, there’s knitting in this movie too. Knitting.
Despite what you’ve been led to believe, a vampire can only live for so long and before Kamiura is terminated by Kyoken (Yayan Ruhian, from “The Raid” movies) a maniac who resembles a human Tasmanian Devil, he takes a bite out of his number two, Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara), passing on his “abilities” to ensure someone will maintain order and defend the yakuza turf. Kagayama is eager to become a noble leader, but he doesn’t have much time to get used to his transformation as rivals grow increasingly aggressive and pressure from the international yakuza syndicate grows as well.
The problem is after Kagayama acquires his powers, “Yakuza Apocalypse” tailspins into an episode of the Banana Splits on crack. Miike opens the door to a horde of superfluous characters who tag team the movie, which ultimately becomes a hallugenic dog chasing its tail. If you’re here to watch incredible fights and could care less about characterization or plot logic, this may be up your alley – that is if you consider a dude in a frog suit as the “world’s toughest terrorist”.
The movie grows tiresome fast and even has a tone of lewdness that will could probably disturb the most desensitized of viewers. Miike apparently often includes a rape scene (or scenes) in his movies, but I found one abrupt scene played for shock sake; completely unnecessary and rather repulsive.
Following the characters is problematic, since none of them are really developed or given any nuances beyond what they can physically do – in fact, they all feel like live-action Manga creations. Ruhian’s character is the right hand of this priest/gunslinger of the syndicate and is probably the most interesting to watch, certainly the most impressive fighter in the film, but unlike the fights in, say, “The Raid” movies, it doesn’t really feel like any of the fight sequences propel what there is of Yoshitaka Yamaguchi’s ridiculous story. AS Kagayama, Ichihara stands out with a more natural screen presence that keeps you from being bored in such a repetitive, incoherent film, but it’s just not enough.
There are other characters in “Yakuza Apocalypse” that stand out, but not for positive reasons. There’s the kappa goblin who is a bizarre man who has phsyically altered his appearance to resemble a bird mashed with a turtle. Seriously. He’s got a beak permanently fastened in his mouth and claw-like hands as well as a turtle shell on his back. Cowabunga? As for females, Kagayama has an ambiguous love interest whose purpose is unclear and there’s a yakuza captain who’s being tormented by a dripping noise in her head and ultimately tries to sprout a garden of new civilians to….use their blood? I don’t know. I gave up.
Miike is a work horse, having made at least 10 movies since 2011’s “13 Assassins” the last and first movie of his I’ve seen. I recall showing an interest in the director after that samurai epic and have been told I need to see “Audition”, but I haven’t been able to catch up with Miike’s impressive pace. “Yakuza Apocalypse” veered so far off course from its promising first act that I’ve now lost interest in embarking on seeking out more Miike right away.