Yakuza Apocalypse (Gokudou daisensou)
Japan (2015) Dir. Takashi Miike
You see the name Takashi Miike next to the title Yakuza Apocalypse and you probably have already conjured up an idea of what this film will entail. But in typical Miike fashion, this won’t be what you are expecting even though Miike’s inimitable esoteric style, taste for extreme violence and disregard for a coherent narrative are all present and correct.
The story – as such it is – begins with Yakuza boss Genyo Kamiura (Lily Franky) who seems to be very popular with the locals and with one of his younger subordinates Akira Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara). However Kamiura has kept a secret from everyone pertaining to his apparent invincibility – he is a vampire.
However the combined efforts of a mysterious vampire hunter and an otaku martial artist (Yayan Ruhian) lead to the death of Kamiura but before he dies, he bites Kageyama and passes on his vampiric blood to him. Needing to satiate his new blood lust, Kageyama goes on a blood-sucking rampage, inadvertently turning his victims in a new breed of vampire – the Yakuza vampire!
Sounds like your typical Miike fodder but in fact the story was written by a former assistant director of his, Yoshitaka Yamaguchi who presumably wasn’t bonkers enough to try to bring his own script to life – and to be honest even Miike seemed a bit overwhelmed by it judging by the way he almost literally loses the plot halfway through and veers off into the realms of utter baffledom!
With Yakuza Apocalypse we find two distinct Miike’s – the satirical, tongue in cheek version behind such gloriously giddy fare as Yatterman and For Love’s Sake, and the complete off-the-wall and high on God knows what version behind Gozu and Happiness Of The Katakuris. Yamaguchi’s script has a lot to answer for obviously, leaving us to wonder who is trolling whom with the audience being the ultimate victims, depending on how you look at it.
It’s not quite so easy to expand too much on the plotline since it becomes rather absurd with no explanation or sense of continuity. For example, the English speaking vampire hunter with his steampunk weapon carried inside a small coffin and the otaku mad Dog appear from nowhere with no further information imparted about them. They also associate with a kappa – a half tortoise, half man of Japanese folklore who speaks of a “modern monster” which will take care of Kageyama.
It’s not Kageyama they need to worry about as Kamiura’s gang are also seeking revenge for their boss’s death, now under the leadership of his No 1. The Captain Sosuke Zenba (actress Reiko Takashima playing the role as a man) who has milk literally coming out of her ears. Meanwhile Kageyama’s victims have grown in number after they each seek human blood and as with them now being Yakuza they no longer need their protection, effectively putting the genuine Yakuza out of business.
Perhaps I am over thinking things but I can’t help thinking that maybe there is an incredibly subtle strand of social commentary behind this particular development, something along the lines of too many chiefs and not enough Indians; or maybe even a rallying call for the small people of the world to stand up against the bullying gangs by fighting fire with fire.
Chances are though that this isn’t the case but the way the story plays out it is hard to divine exactly what the objective was here, aside from just delivering another slice of deliriously goofy comic fantasy entertainment. The last part, about being entertained, will of course be purely subjective as the film suffers from a plodding second act before it turns into a hallucinogenic maelstrom of madness.
This highlight of this is the “modern monster” the Kappa spoke of; I hate to spoil it but there is no ignoring it – it is a man in a large frog suit! Yup, imagine a sports mascot who is skilfully adept at martial arts and there you go. A ridiculous sight to behold but a cult figure in the making, make no doubts about that. And kudos to the actor in the suit for being able to fight as well as he does whilst wearing this cumbersome costume.
What makes this such an infuriating watch is that we know we’re not supposed to take it seriously yet Miike takes things so far leftfield with the abstract shenanigans and dispensing with the plot that it is hard to know what to think. The original concept had some legs to it but the way it suddenly flips over into a Mighty Boosh sketch on steroids will prove too disarming for many viewers.
But, what does keep us watching is that the production values are high and nothing has been scrimped on budget wise. The photography is top notch and the editing is smooth and rhythmic as it can be for such a wildly constructed film. The few fight sequences which last more than a few seconds are impressively shot with The Raid star Yayan Ruhian showing some great martial arts chops.
The cast all throw themselves into their roles with their usual wholesale investment and trust in Miike and his vision and he at least creates some interesting characters out of this. It’s unfortunate that the story suffers, with many threads left unresolved and ending on an abrupt open note which seems to obliquely threaten a sequel without actually pushing the idea too hard.
Absurdly fun and just plain absurd in equal measures, Yakuza Apocalypse isn’t a bad film, just half a good one with an arguably deleterious approach of some its best ideas. Hardcore Miike fans will no doubt be more forgiving than most and find plenty to get a kick out of it while it is likely most audiences will feel like they are on the outside of a private joke they may regret hearing.
In other words, pure Miike!