Review: Yakuza Apocalypse
PLOT: After his gang boss is murdered, a young Yakuza discovers his beloved mentor was a vampire, and that he now possesses all his former power. With his new-found thirst for blood, he takes on the supernatural cartel who killed his boss.
REVIEW: Say what you will about Takashi Miike, but the man is nothing if not productive. Currently averaging about two films a year, he has a huge cult following, and his movies are always popular midnight fare at genre film festivals around the world. His latest, YAKUZA APOCALYPSE follows a recent Miike trend which has seen him pull away from the extreme-violence that defined his early work, and into a more mainstream-friendly director. Or at least, as mainstream as you can get where the main baddie is a baseball-bat wielding frog.
A mix of gangster and vampire flick, the blackly comic YAKUZA APOCALYPSE follows a veteran yakuza boss who just so happens to also be a vampire. Having demolished all those who oppose him (in the well-choreographed opening) Lily Franky's mob boss makes a name for himself protecting the civilians he watches over in his small town, only feeding on low-life prisoners he keeps in a sowing circle underneath a local bar. Of his men, the only one he really trusts is the wimpy Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) – who's so lightweight he can't even stand getting the requisite Yakuza back tattoo. When the boss is killed by a supernaturally endowed opponent (THE RAID's Yayan Ruhian) he transfers his power to the loyal Kageyama, who promptly goes on a feeding frenzy, and converts all the town's most oppressed folk into his un-dead sidekicks. He pits them against the boss' disloyal former underlings, who are now ordered around by a cartel of macabre creatures, including a man-turtle, a (badly) English-speaking priest and a felt-costumed frog, who is known to be the world's greatest assassin.
The fact is, YAKUZA APOCALYPSE probably sounds like more fun than it actually is. Running a meandering two hours, there's too little action and too much nonsense. Some of the plot-lines, including Kageyama's flirtation with a comely young lass, go nowhere. Outside of a wimpy emo-kid who he turns into a blood-sucking bad-ass (who even rips-off his boy-band style haircut to reveal a cooler haircut post-conversion) the folks Kageyama converts never get much screen-time. A nominal protagonist, you never really get a handle on Ichihara's underdog gangster. Clearly, Miike's emphasis is more on the mayhem, but even this is weak with very little in the way of the extreme carnage that once defined the director's opus. Adding Yayan Ruhian to the mix was a neat idea, but none of the other cast-members are able to go up-against him in a thrilling way, with the final showdown being pretty anti-climatic. Still, it is fun to watch a guy dressed up as a big felt frog take-down some gangsters.
Like many of Miike's films, YAKUZA APOCALYPSE is a big joke, and as such will only appeal to his die-hard fans (of which – admittedly – there are a lot). This isn't Miike at his finest (13 ASSASSINS) or his most inspired (AUDITION, ICHI THE KILLER). But, like the rest of his films the production values are solid, and some of the chaos is creative enough that it's not a total loss. This is for Miike devotees only.