Japanese auteur Takashi Miike’s latest film, Yakuza Apocalypse, is a genre-bending trip into absurdity. Miike is known for pushing boundaries and testing the limits of what’s acceptable on screen. Those familiar with his past work shouldn’t be surprised by Yakuza Apocalypse’s wildly incoherent narrative. In his latest film, Miike takes elements from martial arts films, gangster movies, and horror flicks, and mashes them all together to form a cinematic chimera. While the thought of combining vampires, cowboys, and crime syndicates into one film sounds like a compelling idea, in actuality Yakuza Apocalypse is far less than the sum of its parts.
Kamiura (Lily Franky) is a Robin Hood-esque local Yakuza boss whose altruism is one of the last things holding his struggling neighborhood together. Kamiura’s community views him as an upstanding citizen, until an bounty hunter resembling an old west gun-slinger shows up and reveals that Kamiura is a vampire. Kamiura loses a fight to the death, and bestows his vampire abilities on a young Yakuza named Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara). Unfamiliar with the ways of the vampire, Kagayama has to deal with the horde of vampire underlings he has unwittingly unleashed while at the same time fending off the threat of the encroaching supernatural creatures that hunted down his mentor, Kamiura.
Yakuza Apocalypse is fun and at times interesting, but rarely entertaining. Miike jam-packs this film with multiple influences that sound like ideal subject matter for an action epic but work better in theory. The film feels like Robert Rodriguez, meets the Wachowskis by way of David Lynch. The movie contains some original concepts and genuinely funny sequences but the audience experiences adrenal fatigue by the time most of them get to play out. Miike could have easily cut 30-minutes from this 125-minute movie.
Taken on their own, Yakuza Apocalypse contains solid action sequences. Miike uses clever camera angles to frame his action scenes, and the fights themselves are bonkers enough that they may have been lifted from a round of Mortal Kombat. Fighters leap into the air reaching incredible heights, and battles result in men’s heads getting ripped off. There is nothing technically wrong with the action in Yakuza Apocalypse, the problem is that there are too many similar sequences. At a certain point the fights stop advancing the plot and just become meaningless eye-candy. It’s tragic that a film can under-serve such well-choreographed comic-book style action.
Yakuza Apocalypse suffers from a lack of moderation. The film’s kinetic grip on the audience dissipates after the 15-minute mark, and all of the film’s style and fluidity quickly melts away into a think molasses of excess. At times Yakuza Apocalypse gets crazy for the sake of being crazy. Miike doesn’t use aspects of the plot to ground film, instead the film’s narrative goes off the rails fairly early on and things only grow exponentially weirder. The film is a collision of brutal violence, black humour, social commentaries which never come close to tying each other together.
Watching Yakuza Apocalypse is like riding a double decker tour bus through the streets of London while it travels at 200mph — you’re in the presence of fascinating historical landmarks, but when you look over the side of the bus all you can make out is a blur as the wind slaps you in the face. Yakuza Apocalypse is what happens when a director tries to do too much too quickly. Had Miike trimmed down the film’s run-time, taken away about a third of the unnecessary characters, and focused on a story that was tethered to something the audience could connect with, Yakuza Apocalypse still may not have been any good, but it would have been tolerable.