In the ruthless underground world of the yakuza, no one is more legendary than boss Kamiura. Rumored to be invincible, the truth is he is a vampire-a bloodsucking yakuza vampire boss! Among Kamiura’s gang is Kageyama, his most loyal underling. However, the others in the gang view Kageyama 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, 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 Kaeru-kun, the foreign syndicate’s mysterious and seemingly unstoppable leader!
With a film catalogue as large as Takashi Miike’s there is about to be a few misses in the mix. This completely off-the-wall vampire romp from 2015 is unfortunately one of those misses.
It is kind of hard to know how to begin explaining Yakuza Apocalypse, but I will give it my best effort. Genyo Kamiura (Lily Franky) is a friendly neighbourhood yakuza boss, who also happens to be a vampire. One day, his peaceful life of crime is interrupted by a gunslinging priest (Ryushin Tei) and his henchman Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian). The priest demands him to fall back in the fold of “the syndicate” but wanting to remain free to practice his chosen profession as he himself sees fit, Kamiura decided to fight the pair instead. Unfortunately, vampire or not, he swiftly ends up being decapitated.
Luckily, his severed head is still able to do the vampiric deed, so to speak, and his second-in-command Akira Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) ends up being bitten and having his boss’s monstrous powers transmitted into him. Confused and disoriented, he wonders the streets biting people and in no time at all, the whole damn town is full of vampires (except for the remaining yakuza. Vampire’s apparently do not like their blood). Meanwhile the yakuza captain is secretly working with the priest and Mad Dog and for some reason her brain is starting to melt and pour out of her ears. We also see a brief appearance by the Japanese water spirit Kappa and the whole situation comes to ahead when a mysterious martial arts master dressed in a bright green frog suit appears on the scene wanting to fight Akira.
If that sounded confusing, it is because it is. There is very little in a form of a followable plot in Yakuza Apocalypse and trying to keep up with the twist and turns of the “story” is a fairly fruitless endeavour. I would like to say that it is one of those completely bonkers pieces of cinema that you just have to go with and appreciate, as it takes you on a wild and bizarre ride, but something about it does not quite compute.
The whole film feels like a sum of million different ideas that got thrown around on a storyboard in no particular order and this is what we have as the end result. It is just a chaotic mess of sequences that never seem to fully relate to each other, which makes for an incredibly frustrating viewing. And it is a bit a shame too, because amongst the disarray there is some genuinely funny ideas that, presented in a different framework, could have been much more successful. The bizarre yakuza captain with her pus leaking ears and the ass-kicking frogman both have some real potential to them, as does Akira’s final showdown with Mad Dog, but as they all are isolated little pieces in a one massive jumble of ideas, they sadly never reach their full potential.
The fight scenes and special effects are decent quality and over the top gory, as one might expect from Miike. They are in fact some of the more enjoyable parts of the film as the rest of it is so utterly unfollowable. However, Even the violence gets to be somewhat tedious when presented in such a confusing package and in the end, it is hard to find enjoyment even from the best martial arts scenes.
If I would have to use one word to describe Yakuza Apocalypse, it would be exhausting. While there is plenty of bizarro cinema that I immensely enjoy, this will sadly not be making that list. I am sure this film has its fans and plenty of people will be able to appreciate the complete chaos of it, but I am not one of them. If you are a Miike fan, give it a go by all means and make up your own mind. It is at the very least a good example of how even great directors sometimes get it wrong.