Have you ever seen a stroke in progress? That’s really the only way I can describe Takashi Miike’s new film, Yakuza Apocalypse. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Yakuza Apocalypse starts off in typical violent fashion, as the narrator talks about life as a Yakuza (Japanese mob), and is then brutally attacked — something Miike does exceptionally well. We are introduced to Kamiura (Lily Frankie), who runs the local Yakuza with one simple rule: be nice to the civilians. Kamiura’s second in command, Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara) loves his boss, and his position, but takes crap from all of his fellow Yakuza for his inability to get a tattoo (sensitive skin).
On day, Kamiura is assassinated by a group of very specialized killers sent by The Syndicate, including The Raid‘s Yayan Ruhian, and Kagayama learns his boss’s biggest secret: he’s a vampire. Kamiura bites Kagayama, transferring his power (both vampiric and as head of the Yakuza) to the young man, and the roller coaster ride that is Yakuza Apocalypse truly begins.
Miike (Ichi The Killer, Audition, 13 Assassins, among many, many others) directs a script by Yoshitaka Yamaguchi that has so much going on — most of it ludicrous — and he does it with his usual flare and frenetic pace. The hints of a love story between Kagayama and a rape victim (Riko Narumi) that the Yakuza rescued are overshadowed by the out-of-this-world spectacle that the story becomes.
As Kagayama learns more about his new powers, and his hunger, he begins to feed on the civilians, turning them from sheep to be protected to wolves who hunt for themselves. This forces The Syndicate — who killed Kamiura — to try and stem the tide as their leader, a “master terrorist,” makes his way to the small town. And when this master shows up in the third act, the fringe comedy of the first two acts slides to the front burner and Yakuza Apocalypse becomes something even crazier, as if it was even possible.
And I mean we see a human-like Kappa Demon, an anime-styled death priest, and of course, the Master, who — and I kid you not — is a man in a mascot-like frog suit who is set to bring about the end of the world. This may seem a bit out there, but it worked for me. I enjoyed the fantastical themes being explored here. Miike essentially throws the kitchen sink into the film before the final frames rolls out, and by the time the end credits began, I was hooked to the story and the add-ball characters and I was left wanting so much more.
It was almost as if Miike took his more off-the-wall visual influences from the late, great Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers, Paranoia Agent), and as a huge fan of Kon, the influences were not lost on me. In fact, seeing that in live action was pretty great.
Yakuza Apocalypse is not a film for everybody, and even though it deals with very adult themes and has the ultra-violence that Miike is known for, it almost plays like a kids movie. A very twisted kids movie. I found myself laughing out loud multiple times, and I truly enjoyed the action and fight scenes, even though the final fight seemed anti-climatic. Takashi Miike is a director known for taking chances and essentially throwing whatever at the wall to see what sticks. That sums up Yakuza Apocalypse for me, the only difference being that what stuck was very enjoyable.
Yakuza Apocalypse is rated R and is in select theaters, and is also on-demand.
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