Stars: Yayan Ruhian, Rirî Furankî, Hayato Ichihara, Mio Yûki, Pierre Taki, Denden, Tetsu Watanabe, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Riko Narumi, Reiko Takashima, Lily Frankie, Masanori Mimoto, Shô Aoyagi, Manzô Shinra, Kiyohiko Shibukawa | Written by Yoshitaka Yamaguchi | Directed by Takashi Miike
I’m not sure if it’s from watching Battles Without Honour and Humanity or my love of the Crows Zero movies that did it, but I have to admit that I was very excited about Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse. Now that I’ve seen it, I may be a little confused but I’ll also admit to being in love with the insane little film.
Yakuza Apocalypse focuses on the story of Kageyama, a Yakuza who is ridiculed for his lack of signature tattoos down to his sensitive skin. When he witnesses the defeat of his former boss, whose decapitated head in turn bites him turning him into a vampire he turns into a vampire. With a thirst for blood and vengeance this is only the start of the madness to come.
The world of the Yakuza is often seen as stylish and something very cool. What Takashi Miike does is to analyse that image that has been given to them and turns it on its head. You only have to look at how many of their stories are represented in Anime and Manga to see where he is coming from. What he then also does is take this image and show its futility.
When Kageyama (Hayoto Ichihara) is spreading the disease of vampirism with his bite, he also spreads “Yakuza” with it. The population that the Yakuza thrive on intimidating are suddenly all part of the same club, and the gangsters become powerless. It almost feels like Miike is satirically looking at the watered down image we see in modern entertainment of these gangland thugs. Mocking them, removes their power of intimidation and without that, they are truly farcical which is exactly what we see on the screen.
This side of the Yakuza Apocalypse tale is fairly straight forward. Where things start to get really crazy is in the appearance of the assassins who take out the former boss. These characters are outlandish but tough, especially The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian who gets to show off plenty of his fighting skill and is a highlight of the movie. As is the strange Muppet like creature that is brought in to eradicate the Yakuza problem. This creature may be outlandish but there is method to this madness.
As I’ve already stated, I see Yakuza Apocalypse as a film that is mocking modern entertainment media’s view of the Yakuza. What we see on-screen tends to water down what they are, and gives a certain anti-hero status to them. Miike has even done this in some of his work, just watch Ichi the Killer and you can see that in practice. Once you understand that the Yakuza are the butt of the joke in the movie, what you are seeing falls into place.
The problem with Takashi Miike’s take on absurdity though is that in Yakuza Apocalypse he tends to put too many ingredients into the pot. There are many themes at work in the film and many little thematic streams that can be followed. You could focus on separate characters and they all have their own path that may be interesting, but tend to confuse things. What this leads to is a movie that can feel a little overwhelming at times, but for Miike fans thankfully it still manages to reign in the craziness to stay entertaining.
Yakuza Apocalypse may be a little out of control at times, and may come apart at the seams but it is still an experience that many will love. Fans of Takashi Miike will recognise where he is taking this film, and even if he doesn’t exactly deliver on what he was aiming for there is plenty to love here. If you understand what the director is aiming for in all the insanity on-screen, you do have to admire his vision…and the fact he manages to make a fight with a Muppet-like bad guy seem strangely believable.
Yakuza Apocalypse is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.