Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld
極道大戦争「Goku dou dai sensou」
Release Date: June 20th, 2015 (Japan)
UK Release Date: January 06th, 2016
UK Distributor: Manga Entertainment
Running Time: 125 mins.
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi (Screenplay),
Starring: Hayato Ichihara, Riko Narumi, Lily Franky, Reiko Takashima, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Sho Aoyagi, Mio Yuki, Pierre Taki, Denden, Yayan Ruhian, Yuki Sakurai,
Criminals and vampires are essentially the same thing: parasites. Criminals live off regular people by robbing them much like vampires suck the blood of the innocent to stay alive. This is an analogy exploited to the fullest by Yakuza Apocalypse when a small town comes under assault from yakuza goons, vampires and, yes, yakuza vampires. It’s a hit and miss affair where fantasy and potential fun are hampered by average writing.
Akira Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) is the loyal enforcer for the so-called “invincible” yakuza boss Genyo Kamiura (Lily Franky). Kamiura is popular because he keeps his town safe and looks after the citizens but not everyone in his gang shares his ideals and while Akira may be a stand-up guy his fellow gangsters don’t play by old-school rules of loyalty and honour which is why treacherous elements in his gang set up an assassination attempt on Kamiura…
This isn’t a normal hit though because a guy dressed up like a 17th century Spanish missionary and his Otaku side-kick named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) show up and try to persuade Kamiura to re-join their gang, The Syndicate and give his territory to them. Kamiura declines so they use vampire slaying techniques to decapitate him. Turns out Kamiura was one of the undead! Kageyama is devastated that he failed his boss but he gets the shock of his life when the head of Kamiura clamps onto his neck and turns him into a vampire.
Predictably enough chaos ensues as Kageyama wrestles with his new abilities. Things go from bizarre to insane as Mad Dog and the rest of The Syndicate show up to take over the town and battles commence. Only Akira Kageyama can save the populace but does he have the confidence? Kamiura has left a message with advice for his vampiric protégé to help him in his time of need!
“Stay foolish!” That is the message of help read by main character of the film, yakuza tough-guy Akira Kageyama, after he has been turned into a vampire by his recently assassinated boss Genyo Kamiura (played for too little time by the always charismatic Lily Franky). It’s a message meant to give courage to our lead character in a moment of crisis and one that also seems meant for director Takashi Miike as he continues his much vaunted return to his exploitation roots after nearly a decade of mainstream movie-making with films like 13 Assassins (2010), Ace Attorney and For Love’s Sake (both from 2012). All of the elements are there for foolish fun such as bizarre characters like the smelly kappa crime boss, martial-arts masters in over-sized frog suits and giant monsters, but none of this is a patch on Miike’s more foolish and out there blackly comic films such as the death-filled musical The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) or gender-bending yakuza love story Gozu (2003). I would put this somewhere in the middle of Miike’s massive filmography, close to Deadly Outlaw: Rekka (2003).
The film is full of visual invention and flair as Miike’s martials many techniques to craft an atmosphere of fun with fantastical dream sequences, vampires and monsters and a cast of loudly dressed yakuza hard men in high-octane battles. All of this gets mashed up into ever expanding instances of affray. Despite the weirdness and active imagery this two hour film threatens to outstay its welcome because Yoshitaka Yamaguchi’s script tries hard to justify the constant chaotic cavalcade of fantastical nonsense by embarking on a sluggish story of internecine rivalries in crime gangs and an ill love interest for Akira’s character (a wasted Riko Narumi).
The world building is laboured and despite being punctuated with bizarre but short-lived fight scenes it feels dragged out for the sake of form, padding out a story with reasons when they are not needed for what is essentially goofy action title – none of it means anything. Since there is so much to get through there is the sense that some of it could be cut out especially since the fighting doesn’t really get going until the second hour of the film when everyone gets involved in the vampire action.
There are moments of fun in amidst the slow parts such as the way Akira ends up infecting the town with vampirism tainted with yakuzaism. Yes, newly minted vampires speak and act like gangsters which delightfully plays on the clichés as nurses, school girls, and even police officers adopt the mannerisms and speech patterns of their criminal oppressors so we see them growl and strut around like crime lords and intimidate the real gangsters. In these scenes there are great performances from many of the actors such as Kiyohiko Shibukawa but you wish there could be more as the film cuts back to needless gang politics.
Hayato Ichihara provides a strong central protagonist to anchor the film to with his impressive physique which he uses to perform in the all too brief action sequences which leads to another disappointment which is the much anticipated final fight between Ichihara and Ruhian which starts off with the promise of two mighty characters in a martial-arts dust-up and devolves into two well-toned guys punching each other. Some may find the bathos funny but others will surely be bored. Ruhian as an otaku is funny to see as he roams around with his backpack full of Love Live! Type posters and brings the film to life when he is fighting.
Ultimately, as I mentioned above, this is not Miike’s best. It is a middling title that lacks the fun and themes seen in other films. It’s great looking and occasionally funny but there’s a lot of potential that is wasted. It is an average story that contains some good set-pieces and great actors. It should have been better.