After Yakuza crime lord Kiamura lacerates the neck of younger colleague Kagayama, an unstoppable slaughter unfurls. Kagayama is then also cursed with a voracious blood lust so feeds frenziedly on friends and enemies while forming a vampire fighting force to replace the syndicate. But a greater war awaits Kagayama and his gang, more perilous than those previously fought with rival organisations, when the formidable, frog “Monster” arrives in town.
Legendary enfant terriblé Takeshi Miike has never been one to shy away from the daring, anarchic and downright bizarre, but his lunatic modes lessened in recent years, as the prolific film-maker mostly focusing on period epics like 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. For a short while Miike seemed to have severed his ties with the uncanny, gangster films that once made him famous. Substandard horror efforts soon followed in the form of Lesson of the Evil and supernatural, theatre-set thriller Over Your Dead Body but now, the genre-bending legend once again dives into gangster terrain with this hyper, action/ vampire hybrid. Yakuza Apocalypse serves as a scintillating, retina-searing return to form, blending the style-stretching lunacy of Miike’s adored works like Gozu, Dead or Alive and Ichi the Killer.
Yakuza Apocalypse hurls the viewer headfirst into the frenzied bedlam of crime-governed Japan, as the Samurai-wielding boss Kiamura hacks and hews at a hurricane of rival assassins while gracefully accepting gunshots like birthday gifts. This feverish, battle-loaded opener paves the way for Miike’s customary turmoil as we are soon introduced to protégé Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara) who is transformed into a vampire and subsequently takes Kiamura’s place as the head of the syndicate. Mad sequences and subplots are tossed like confetti and serve as nothing but distractions to the lunatic imagery and set-pieces that unfurl like an angry, drug-fired nightmare, growing madder, more vibrant and nonsensical by the minute. The central story of Yoshitaka Yamaguchi’s screenplay almost disintegrates entirely under the anarchic bombardment of limb flailing and the typical Miike madness which takes precedence over everything.
Like most of David Lynch’s work (and the majority of James Bond films) it’s best not to try and figure out the narrative, just hold on tight and enjoy the ride. For Yakuza Apocalypse will appease Miike followers but may alienate those less partial to his work: those who rely on a narrative solidarity and signpost plotting. Some will be totally bamboozled but sharp humour imbues Yakuza Apocalypse with the kind of dead-eyed conviction rarely seen in horror, action or comedy for that matter. Those new to Miike viewers with open minds may have fun as surreal humour cushions the eye-watering violence with childlike fervour and makes the incomprehensible madness more manageable. Memorable moments include a beak-faced freak and his basement of middle-aged knitting fanatics, a livid, severed head attacking an unwary gangster and the frustrated boy vampire with a clandestine afro. The chief antagonist frog monster resembles a sacked pantomime cast member or discarded villain from a kid’s TV show. Wandering lost and lonely through various dimensions, it’s fortunate enough to land in the latter half of Yakuza Apocalypse, where its presence is not totally out of the norm. The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog) also makes an appearance as a tetchy henchman that battles Kiamura in a remarkable multi-punch marathon.
With an extraordinary 99 films to his name and two more in development (sci-fi horror Terra Formars and action drama Blade of the Immortal), Miike shows no sign of stopping any time soon. But despite averaging three films a year, most of his work has never made it to the UK, so there are still loads of gems to discover. Yakuza Apocalypse serves as a perfect introduction to the Miike magnum but it is also an honourable love letter to his fans and a furious, Pythonesque fusion of everything that Miike celebrates, adorns and stands for in modern cinema.
Words: Daniel Goodwin (@privateutopias)