As of this writing, Takashi Miike has 99 directing credits on IMDB. Of those 99, I challenge you to find a film stranger than Yakuza Apocalypse. Yes, he’s directed sadistically gory pictures like Ichi the Killer, goofy films like Zebraman, and prestige pics like his 3-D remake of Hara-Kiri. He definitely has a broad range, but he’s never mashed all these genres up into a single picture until now.
The story starts out simply enough. A Yakuza oyabun (boss), who just happens to be a vampire, is beheaded by a nerdy guy with a backpack and his friend who looks like Vampire Hunter D. One of the boss’s underlings, Kageyama, is bitten by the head before it dies, thereby becoming a vampire and the gang’s new oyabun. That’s where things start to get really weird. I won’t give away too much, but I will tell you that the climactic battle features a supernatural creature in a theme park character costume that looks a lot like HR Pufnstuff. No, I am not making this up.
Let me start by saying that I was genuinely excited to see this film. While I haven’t enjoyed every movie that Miike has made, I do appreciate the fact that he often tries new things. If you do that enough, you’ll fail part of the time. For me, Yakuza Apocalypse is one of those failures. Not only did I dislike it; I found it boring, and that’s a word I never thought I’d use in association with Miike’s work.
The story has no drive. Kageyama is shown to be a loyal and ambitious underling who’s picked on by the other Yakuza. You might imagine a revenge scenario, and that does sort of play out briefly, but then we move on. The picture has no backbone. It’s just a random sequence of odd events punctuated by appearances of the Vampire Hunter D weirdo–a guy in an Elizabethan ruff who speaks incomprehensible English sans subtitles. We’re never allowed to get close enough to Kageyama to root for him…or against him. I just didn’t care what happened next.
My conclusion is that this is all played for comedy and I just didn’t get it. I rarely find Japanese comedies to be funny, so it would follow that the comedic elements of this one wouldn’t land with me. Perhaps this is Miike’s Evil Dead 2.
As to the design and execution of the movie, all of the elements are top-notch. Miike clearly knows how to make a movie look and sound great, even when using a crew of relative newcomers. Of particular interest to me, was the film’s portrayal of a kappa–a vampiric creature from Japanese folklore.
While I can’t recommend this feature, I do applaud Miike for trying new things. He continues to push the margins so far that he sometimes falls right off the edge of the paper. That’s what it means to be an artist. The Hollywood machine certainly needs more directors like Miike behind the camera. Instead, the big studios are trying to take away directorial clout by relying on marquee franchises in place of inspired talent. But that’s a post for another day.