Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Hayato Ichihara, Reiko Takashima, Yayan Ruhian, Riko Narumi, Sho Aoyagi, Pierre Taki, Lily Franky
MPAA Rating: (for strong bloody violence, a rape and language)
Running Time: 1:56
Release Date: 10/9/15 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 8, 2015
If one didn't know any better, it would appear that director Takashi Miike has had it up to here with gangster movies. The "here" up to which he has had it would be about the height of a skyscraper or, perhaps more in line with this movie, the height of a towering monster that is actually a guy in an animal costume. Miike has made his fair share of movies about the yakuza (the Japanese equivalent of the mafia, complete with a code of honor conflicting with the primarily criminal activity of the organization), and Yakuza Apocalypse, as you may have guessed from the title, is yet another one. It feels as if he wants it to be his last one, too.
This is a very silly movie. It knows it. It outright says as much, just before the climactic battle set against, as you also may have guessed from the title, the forthcoming apocalypse. There are no horses and horsemen, plagues and famine and pestilence, or blaring trumpets within this upcoming end of the world, though. No, here, the apocalypse is signaled by the ringing of a tiny bell on a bicycle, and the rider is an imposing frog monster, portrayed as someone in a burdensome felt costume. The monster needs help getting down stairs, because, well, it is someone (or something) in a costume that limits the ability to see.
This is a very silly movie, indeed, so I suppose it's only fitting to ask a silly question about it: Is it silly enough? Yes, you might be thinking, of course it is. The evidence surely must be right there in that person (or thing) in the frog getup. It surely is self-evident, because no serious movie would even think to make turn such a thing into a legitimate threat and have every other character treat it as such.
I have yet to mention that the movie also features yakuza vampires. At this point, you probably are thinking that this movie must have adversely affected my mind, that I would entertain such a silly notion that perhaps this obviously silly movie might not be "silly enough."
On the surface, it must certainly is. There's more to it than just surface, of course, and that's where Miike and screenwriter Yoshitaka Yamaguchi aren't quite as convincing in the movie's quest for the ridiculous (I have realized that the repetition of the word "silly" has become, well, silly).
There are two primary through lines here. The first, which possesses two through lines of its own with very different tones, concerns Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara). He's a low-level gangster who has always admired the lifestyle and honor that come with being a yakuza.
In this little town, which nearly has been devastated by a recession, Kamiura (Lily Franky), the local yakuza boss, has helped to keep the peace of the town and its economy relatively steady. Everyone loves and respects Kamiura, who takes on a rival gang in the movie's bloody prologue, enduring multiple stabbings, slashings, and gunshots. See, Kamiura is a vampire, and he has been training Kagayama—apparently without the henchman's knowledge—to take his place, having him drink blood at the local bar, where a knitting club of older men sits in the basement to prepare their bodies to become "feed" for the boss.
Kamuira is killed by a pair of assassins, and with the dying act of his decapitated head, the boss turns Kagayama into a vampire. The first subsection of this storyline fits snugly within the tone of all that aforementioned absurdity. Kagayama begins unintentionally forming an army of vampires out of civilian, upon whom the surviving yakuza depend to maintain their status (Vampires apparently aren't keen on being extorted for protection money). The remaining yakuza, led by their Captain (Reiko Takashima), make an uneasy alliance with the apparently supernatural assassins who killed their boss, and by the way, there's a turtle demon here, too. That story brings us closer to the promised apocalypse involving the thing in the frog suit (It would be unfair to reveal whether or not the costume comes off, but let's just say that, if it does, this is the sort of movie that would have fun with that reveal).
There's a jarring shift in tone within Kagayama's story, which is represented by a young woman (Riko Narumi) whom the gangster saved from an assault. There's an almost tender love story here that accentuates a crisis of conscience for Kagayama. A vampire must do what it does, but this particular vampire doesn't feel too good about it. It's almost as if Miike and Yamaguchi didn't quite trust the extreme absurdity of everything, and these scenes feel shoehorned in as a way to ground a story about yakuza vampires and apocalypse-bringing demon-animals in some kind of reality for some reason.
It doesn't work, although the absurd elements of Yakuza Apocalypse start to feel monotonous, too (One supposes that Miike stages the final fight, in which two men simply and repeatedly butt heads, as a droll commentary on the potential for repetitiveness and triviality in fight scenes, but it's still repetitive and trivial in this form). Real silliness doesn't settle into a routine. This movie's brand of it does.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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