Well on the march to film 100 by this point in his career, legendary director Takashi Miike had made his name with prolific entries in both the gangster/yakuza and horror genres. The attempt to mix both of his prominent setups was too high a calling card for him as the end result was a high-class mash-up under the title ‘Gokudô daisenso,’ internationally released as “Yakuza Apocalypse”.
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In the ruthless underground world of the yakuza, no one is more legendary than boss Genyo Kamiura (Lily Franky, from “The Devil’s Pass”), who is rumored to be invincible due to his vampire powers. Among his gang is Akira Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara, from “Blade of the Immortal”), his most loyal underling, but the others in the gang view him with disdain and ridicule him for his inability to get tattooed due to sensitive skin. One day, assassins aware of boss Kamiura’s secret arrive from abroad and deliver him an ultimatum: Return to the international syndicate he left years ago, or die. Kamiura refuses and, during a fierce battle with anime-otaku martial-arts expert Kyoken (Yayah Ruhian, from “The Raid: Redemption”), is torn limb-from-limb. With his dying breath, Kamiura bites Kageyama, passing on his vampire powers to the unsuspecting yakuza. As he begins to awaken to his newfound abilities, Kageyama’s desire to avenge the murder of boss Kamiura sets him on a course for a violent confrontation with the foreign syndicate’s mysterious and seemingly unstoppable leader!
From the very start, we’re plunged into a prototypical Miike milieu. Seeing the opening with the rival gangs at war is a perfect drop into this story, as the hand-to-hand and weapon-filled fighting is a brutal, dynamic sequence filled with great bloodshed during the battle. The focus on the relationships between the yakuza members, especially Kageyama’s hazing over his skin condition that the other members went through, brings out a sentimentality to the gang that is usually featured in his work. Throwing in the oddball comedy from time-to-time, such as the meetings between bosses that are conducted while they’re all knitting sweaters or meeting up with the Kappa-like member of the group which just speaks of his quirkiness and sense of humor.
After that, ‘Yakuza Apocalypse’ manages a lot of enjoyable, straightforward, horror elements. With the concept of the vampire Kageyama running around turning innocent civilians into vampires after being bitten, there’s some solid work on display here. Starting with the first scenes of the couple stumbling upon the crime scene being bitten and themselves turning the other witnesses into vampires, these scenes set up the later fun of the vampires running amok in the community, abusing their authority. The outrage caused by them as well as the rampage caused by the suddenly-in-control vampires running over the Yakuza there to hassle them down, not only gives this some nice laughs but also some great gore effects and martial arts action. The main fights allow for a nice extra inclusion of action and allow Ichihara and Ruhian to showcase their abilities due to the hard-hitting, bone-breaking fights, really giving this a lot to enjoy.
As is typical for a Miike film, we have a colorful assortment of characters present, even if they fall short of the memorable ones of his past. Lead Hayato Ichihara as Kageyama who ends up becoming a vampire does a decent job when he’s asked to fight but beyond the idea of him having sensitive skin preventing him from getting tattooed nothing else is learned or given about who he is. His calm, collected boss Kamiura, played by Lily Frankie, is a fun character, being a yakuza member with a sense of ethics only to be dropped from the film way too early on. The main villain Kyoken, played by Indonesian martial arts expert Yayah Ruhian, offers an imposing character who wanders around kicking butt with a backpack full of maps during his fights, yet there’s not much else to him. That’s the main thing with the film, fine characters but not a whole lot really known about them.
Beyond these fun elements, ‘Yakuza Apocalypse’ has a few minor problematic areas. The main problem here is the overly-long running time. The final half is especially guilty of this one flaw, lasting through an over-developed storyline which offers up too many new ideas that aren’t necessary. Introducing the concept of beginning a garden in order to grow new civilians in order to replace the ones turned into vampires in the final half of the film is a silly idea that’s worthy of being a part of the movie from the beginning; yet is dropped into this one at a point where it’s not really needed. The idea of a martial artist in a frog costume being brought into the film offers some goofy elements which fit into the tone of the proceedings, yet really gives this some extra time that’s really not needed. There’s not much else to be said here, other than not being a fan of the over-the-top atmosphere being present here.
Despite having a few minor flaws present, there’s plenty of other enjoyable elements throughout ‘Yakuza Apocalypse’ which makes the film a highly entertaining entry in Miike’s filmography. Dive right in if you’re a fan of his other works or have a strong fascination with the horror/crime hybrids he created in the past, while those who aren’t fans of this or find the flaws too overwhelming should heed caution.