‘Yakuza Apocalypse’ Review: Way Too Foolish | TIFF 2015

     September 19, 2015


There’s definitely some fun to be had with Takashi Miike’s extreme combat, bold visuals and silly mishmash of supernatural entities and natural disasters, but ultimately, one of the characters in Yakuza Apocalypse tells it as it is; “Subtract stupid from yakuza and you have nothing left.” If you don’t have a taste for the absurdity of the story and style, the movie doesn’t have much to offer and devolves into a bloody bore.

There’s a lot going on in Yakuza Apocalypse, but it all begins with Kamiura (Lily Franky), a yakuza boss who actually does everything in his power to help the civilians, rescuing the helpless and even offering loans so that they can get by during the recession. He’s got a good thing going, but when a priest/gunslinger from the “syndicate” comes to town, Kamiura’s big secret is finally revealed – he’s a vampire. Before his enemies can dispatch him, Kamiura passes his abilities on to his second in command, Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara), so now it’s up to him to defend their turf and civilians.

Up until that point, Yakuza Apocalypse is an absolutely brilliant blend of the bizarre and a truly compelling narrative. Kamiura’s compassion feels genuine so it’s natural to support his cause – even if he does keep men prisoner, forcing them to participate in a knitting circle until he’s ready to drink their blood. (Really.) It’s also effortless to get behind Kagayama’s dream of becoming a noble yakuza leader like his boss, so when Kamiura bites the dust, there is a sense of loss but you’re also eager to see Kagayama rise to the occasion and put his new abilities to good use. Ichihara’s got an especially natural on-screen presence that keeps you mildly engaged throughout the film, but that alone isn’t enough to support the overabundance of wacky characters, creatures and repetitive fight sequences that drag the nonsensical narrative into the ground.


Image via TIFF

After Kagayama acquires his powers, Yakuza Apocalypse spirals out of control, dishing out one superfluous character after the next while completely ignoring the need for supernatural rules and how they could strengthen the story. Watching a guy in a frog costume who’s dubbed the “world’s toughest terrorist” lay a serious beating on the yakuza is fun for a moment, but when you know so little about where he comes from and what his agenda is, the gag grows tiresome fast. And the same goes for Yayan Ruhian’s character. He plays the priest/gunslinger’s right hand man who poses as a tourist and is clearly the most incredible fighter in the film, but there’s only so many times you can see him and Ichihara go at it before it becomes abundantly clear that their battles aren’t moving the story forward. And neither do the kappa goblin (an extremely smelly man with a beak coming out of his mouth and a turtle shell on his back), Kagayama’s love interest or the yakuza captain who’s being tormented by a dripping noise in her head who ultimately tries to sprout a garden of new civilians.

Miike is so busy exploiting the fight scenes and these story oddities that he squanders the strongest plot point he establishes. Before Kagayama can harness his thirst for blood, he feeds on civilians, and specifically the weaker ones. What results is the rise of the most unlikely yakuza vampire army including a young boy who drags around a gigantic axe, a nurse, a schoolgirl and many more. That certainly could have spawned a unique, thoughtful underdog story where Kagayama, a yakuza who’s picked on because his skin is too sensitive for a tattoo, leads a band of misfits against the invaders, but clearly that’s not how things play out.


Image via TIFF

Perhaps it’d be easier to let loose and enjoy Yakuza Apocalypse for what it is had the movie not had such a great first act. Miike creates a strong atmosphere, a unique topic and tone, and teases a powerful character journey, but then veers so far off course, it winds up becoming a completely different and far inferior film. I was thrilled when things finally wrapped up after nearly 115 minutes of nonsense but admittedly, I wouldn’t mind seeing Miike trash the second and third acts and give this concept another shot.

Grade: C

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