Incredibly stupid in all the right ways, Yakuza Apocalypse is glorious.
Takashi Miike is a prolific and visionary director who’s worked on over ninety films. He’s primarily known in the west for his ultra-violent horror movies (Ichi the Killer), but he’s worked on all kinds of genres, including serious drama and silly kids movies. He also directed the live action Ace Attorney movie, which I loved.
So when I say that Yakuza Apocalypse is incredibly dumb, that’s an obvious choice on his part. Also, there’s a little more nuance there so let’s back up.
The movie opens with a sequence where a man is attacked suddenly while walking down the street in the rain. We get a little narration. “There was a time when being a man meant being yakuza.” It’s bloody and gruesome as he proceeds to cut down his attackers one by one, even as he himself is ripped apart and bleeding. It becomes clear something supernatural is going on here after he’s shot repeatedly and still continues onward to murder them all. It’s this kind of intense bloody violence that American action movies so sorely lack and it got me on the movie’s side immediately.
Upfront the movie actually more resembles a serious drama about Yakuza gangsters. Miike is a great director, so when the movie is playing it straight it’s entirely credible. Our hero, Kagayama, is a trusted lieutenant of the Yakuza boss we met in the beginning. He gets made fun of by the other yakuza in the gang because his sensitive skin had prevented him from getting a tattoo yet, and we get a scene of him looking at the full back tattoo of his boss with awe and envy. We also learn that the boss is very benevolent to the area they protect, adamant that civilians are off limits. We get a bizarre scene where a boy is sharpening an ax, and then tearfully tells his father, who’s having money troubles, that he wished he’d never been born and hands his father the ax to kill him. The father almost does it too, before the boss and Kagayama show up from nowhere to stop him and give the father some money. It’s a bizarre and chilling scene.
But the movie is just biding its time, establishing this authentic setting so that it can tear it all apart. There are just so many memorable scenes here, and I don’t really want to spoil too much. It turns out that the boss is a Yakuza Vampire, and when some other colorful characters come to town to kill him (A man who speaks English and carries a lightning gun, someone dressed up like a Kappa, and Yayan Ruhian (The Raid: Redemption) as a martial arts expert dressed up like a stereotypical nerd.) he passes on his power to Kagayama. Turns out being a yakuza vampire means that when you feed on people, not only do they too become bloodsucking vampries, but they also take on the personality of yakuza gangsters. As it spreads soon the whole town is being lazy, rude and primarily interested in gambling, threatening the livelihood of the actual yakuza gangsters whose blood is unappealing to the vampires. A yakuza apocalypse indeed.
There’s more to the movie, with many ridiculous fights and a terrorist monster that turns out to be a dude in a pretty cheap looking frog mascot suit who can force choke people. The closest comparison I can make is to Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, (One of my favorite movies) although that movie was much more earnest and less irreverent with its silliness; Yakuza Apocalypse is a little too cloaked in ironic detachment for me to absolutely love it. This is a dumb movie that’s aware of how dumb it is; part parody of super macho movies, and part exercise in excess. That it never quite figures out a way to tie it all together at the end is a little disappointing, but on the other hand it barely matters because so much of the fun here is wildly energetic and the way the movie barrels forward with every stupid idea it has made is super endearing to me.
The candle burns hard and bright, and then it’s gone.
This movie is so much fun, and if you like over the top dumb action I highly recommend it.