Prolific Japanese genre auteur Takashi Miike returns to his gonzo roots with Yakuza Apocalypse, a genre mashup about a yakuza boss named Kamiura (Lily Franky) who’s assassinated by a coffin-toting English-speaking, Japanese, Django-wannabe gunslinger and his trusty sidekick (played by Indonesian action star Yayan Ruhian from The Raid). Just before his death, Kamiura’s decapitated head takes a bite out of his young protegé Kagayama (played by ruggedly handsome Hayato Ichihara), turning him into a bloodsucking vampire. Kagayama then takes to the streets turning regular citizens into the undead while rounding up an army of night-walkers before seeking revenge on his mentor’s killers.
Restraint is not a concept in the cinematic vocabulary of Miike Takashi and boy does he go wild here. If you were bored with his recent string of mind-numbing splatter films like Lesson of the Evil you’ll love Miike’s latest opus and all the strange creatures it brings with it, including a kappa demon warrior; a mafia knitting circle who conduct their business in a dark cellar; and a martial arts enforcer wearing a giant Gumby-like frog suit.
Miike and his screenwriter Yamaguchi, who worked as assistant director on Zebraman 2,throw everything into the mix. The results don’t always work, but Yakuza Apocalypse captures the spirit of Miike’s low-budget, direct-to-video gangster pics and strange action-fantasies that made him famous. As expected, Yakuza Apocalypse features a number of action sequences, some better than others — the opening sequence (which pays homage to Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity) sets the action immediately as the samurai-sword-wielding yakuza boss Kamiura slices his way through a gang of thugs unharmed,despite taking a few bullets to his chest. Miike and cinematographer Hajime Kanda direct the action with a great deal of technical skill, but at times the action can be a bit underwhelming. Don’t expect to see the sort of high-wire martial arts fight choreography that guys like Yuen Wo Ping are known for. While the plot is bonkers, the martial arts in Yakuza Apocalypse is somewhat “grounded” and the athleticism of Ichihara and Ruhian is sadly restrained. But if you’re a fan of Miike’s early work, Yakuza Apocalypse is not to be missed! The insanity comes fast; it’s furious, and it hardly slows down. Yakuza Apocalypse isn’t Miike’s best by a long shot, but it’s bloody fun and goes by fast given the 125-minute running time.
Other tech credits worth noting: Kenji Yamashita (a regular collaborator), does a fine job slicing together the madness while Koji Endo’s score parodies the operatic music that accompanied violent yakuza films and Spaghetti Westerns of the ’70s.
- Ricky D