Yakuza Apocalypse is the greatest yakuza vampire movie ever made. It also appears to be the only yakuza vampire movie ever made, and if Miike’s surreal, violent, hilarious and unashamedly bonkers film is anything to go by, it will probably be the last. Now that’s not to say that it’s bad, far from it, (although it will, of course, depend on one’s taste for Miike films) it’s just that the film is such a singularly strange and unique experience that any other filmmaker would have to be certifiably insane to try and throw their hat into the ring of this sub-sub-genre. Filled with anarchic humour and strange, even pointless, set pieces, Yakuza Apocalypse throws every single horror, action and gangster cliché or gag at the wall without a care in the world to see if it will stick while still somehow coming out the other side as a satire of genre cinema. Of course, it all works because Takashi Miike is in his element here.
Genyo Kaimura (Lily Franky) is the local yakuza boss, beloved by civilians and feared by his enemies. He is also a vampire. When he is taken out by hitmen, he transfers his powers to his henchman Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara) who struggles with his new found powers. Kagayama’s thirst for blood drives him to start indiscriminately attacking civilians who subsequently turn into yakuza vampires themselves. As the epidemic spreads, the remaining human yakuza worry that without civilians to exploit they will die out. So they team up with the demonic underworld to take down Kagayama and his new vampiric disciples. Of course, this is all just window dressing for the bizarre, nonsensical violent and comedic set pieces that are to follow.
No logic is unbreakable for Miike when it comes to these set pieces either. Whether or not it has any bearing on the plot there is no concern by the director as long as it is exciting or funny; a boy, seeking vengeance for the death of his father angrily pulls off his own hair like a wig only to reveal shorter hair beneath, a yakuza boss’s hearing problems are alleviated by an explosion of seemingly unending ear wax on to an unsuspecting underling, and a much feared demonic assassin appears as a kickboxing Manga version of Kermit the Frog equipped with a supernatural death stare, are just a few of the mind-meltingly weird ideas on display.
Yet amongst the weirdness, there is a funny and quite sharp satire at work about the relationship between yakuza and the public at large. When he becomes a vampire, Kagayama learns that civilian blood is the tastiest and most nutritious, while yakuza blood is not, driving him to prey on the civilians and their way of life. Once the civilians begin transforming they start to behave like yakuza, bullying others and generally being selfish, and all of society breaks down. The last remaining true human yakuza fear that without any civilians left the yakuza will just die out as their literal life blood would have been drained dry, so begin a farming project to cultivate more civilians to replace those turned into yakuza (yes, another one of those weird ideas). This satirical element shows not only a great understanding of genre but an iconoclastic view of what is such an endemic part of Japanese society. One wonders what a real life yakuza would think of this film. Hell, they’d probably love it.
The performances are by and large terrific, ranging from earnest to knowing and everywhere in between. Hayato Ichihara as Kagayama plays everything straight no matter how ridiculous the scenario, allowing room for pretty much everybody else to go completely mad. Good to see pop up in a major role, is Yayan Ruhian (aka Mad Dog from The Raid) as an assassin and main rival of Kagayama. His martial arts prowess is obviously in high demand these days, and he brings his usual intensity to the role, made all the more interesting due to the fact that he is dressed in stereotypical “nerd” attire, complete with backpack, for the majority of the film.
Yakuza Apocalypse is Miike in true full tilt gonzo mode. This review barely scratches the surface of just how wonderfully weird this film is. Skewering all genres, many of which he has helped shape in Japanese cinema, he takes the opportunity to play in an almost unlimited sandbox and doesn’t disappoint. A filmmaker of such monumental prolificacy Miike has certainly found his niche, his process, his dark magic, whatever one wishes to call it. Although a lot of his films have strange elements that seemingly exist just for the mere fact that they’re strange, there is still an underlying intelligence that re-contextualises the weirdness. There is a feeling that it is all there for a reason, whether it is just to astound and bewilder, or if it is to speak to something more complex or satirical, Miike’s is a deliberate madness.