About mid-way through Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse, a man with a beak walks into the room. Wearing dramatic makeup, waving big green rubber hands and with a some kind of shell on his back, he gaily prances around, offending everyone with his halitosis. His presence is never explained.
And trust me, the beak-man is one of the saner things in the movie.
Takashi Miike is a disturbingly prolific workaholic, usually pumping out three films of variable quality every year. Over the course of his career he’s covered most genres, though he always seems to return to gangster dramas. Of course, Miike’s gangster dramas tend to be… well… odd. He sadomasochistically dissected Batman/The Joker in Ichi the Killer, Full Metal Yakuza is a low-budget bonkers Japanese Robocop and Gozu… well, Gozu has got to be seen to be believed.
Yakuza Apocalypse doesn’t skimp on that trademark Miike madness. Very broadly it’s a social satire, likening Yakuza gangsters to bloodsucking vampire parasites. Our hero is Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), a young, loyal and mostly good-hearted lieutenant. Early in the film he becomes a Yakuza Vampire, which gives him superpowers and an insatiable bloodlust. After he bites ‘civilians’ (people not involved in organized crime), they turn into Yakuza Vampires, too – drinking, gambling and strutting around with a bad attitude.
They begin biting more civilians and things snowball to the point where damn nearly everyone in town is a Yakuza Vampire. This presents a problem for the actual Yakuza: if everyone is acting cocky and violent, then they’ve got nobody to push around. It’s a neat set-up and Miike gets some good laughs out of confused gangsters being pushed around by angry Yakuza schoolgirls and greedy Yakuza cops.
This takes us to about mid-way through the movie. Then Miike, apparently having decided that he’s made his point, switches gears and makes the rest of the film a battle against a guy in a furry frog-mascot outfit, which concludes with the apocalypse.
I can’t in good conscience truly dislike a film this wilfully strange, but at the same time I can’t, hand on heart, say it’s actually good. Often you sense that Miike is trolling his audience. The film is full of surreal unsolved subplots, like a female gangster who begins leaking milk from her ears that she uses to coax young boys from greenhouse soil. There’s also the unexplained presence of a room full of elderly men knitting scarves. The ‘big’ martial arts finale (featuring The Raid’s Yayan Ruhian) proves to be two guys standing still and punching each other in the face over and over again, and the film even cuts to credits literally in the middle of a big budget action sequence, leaving nothing resolved.
And then there’s the giant furry frog-man.
If you just go with the flow, Yakuza Apocalypse is enjoyable as an exercise in audacity. You’re interested because you want to see whatever insane direction the story is going to go in next, wondering just what the hell is going on Takashi Miike’s head. Helping matters is that the film has a neat visual style, a solid action protagonist in Hayato Ichihara and a supporting cast of Miike’s usual weirdo actors.
But, let’s face it, none of this makes a goddamn lick of sense; it’s a fever-dream narrative that quickly spirals off into indecipherable craziness. Miike aficionados will lap this up, but it’s going to confuse (and probably annoy) everyone else. The problem is that Miike has demonstrated on a number of occasions that, if he wants to, he can be both surreal and tell a broadly coherent story. In Yakuza Apocalypse, he’s either enjoying freewheeling a little too much or just doesn’t care. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Yakuza Apocalypse is barely comprehensible barminess. But it's definitely fun.