What’s worse than a simply bad film? A film that utterly squanders its potential.
Director Takashi Miike’s filmography is far ranging — from the sadistic Ichi the Killer to vivid family comedy Ninja Kids!!!. With close to 100 credits to his name, a supernatural gangster film seems right up Miike’s street. However, rather than the razor-sharp genre hybrid we might have hoped for, though, what we get with Yakuza Apocalypse is a bizarre and incoherent mashup.
Local Yakuza boss Kamuira (Lily Franky) is a beloved figure in the community; his right-hand man Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) is a shave-headed, nattily dressed acolyte with sensitive skin. When Kamuira is unexpectedly assassinated — shot through the chest with a never-explained electricity gun by a man in a ruff and his head twisted clean off by muscleman/’80s geek (a wasted Yayan Ruhian AKA Mad Dog in The Raid) — his last act, post-decapitation, is to turn Kageyama into a vampire.
Now inexplicably sporting a new fullback tattoo and rapacious thirst for blood, Kageyama proceeds to transform the civilian population into bloody-mouthed Yakuza vampires. They’re pretty much the same as regular vampires, only more inclined to public acts of shiftless disobedient and less inclined to pay protection — much to the chagrin of Kageyama’s former compatriots.
The idea that the tables have turned and now the civilians will feed off the Yakuza is a neat one, but one that Miike has no interest in developing. Instead, Yakuza Apocalypse veers into left-field with a ragtag alliance between, among others, a kappa (the mythical foul-smelling, beak-mouthed turtle-goblin of Japanese myth) and a fearsome martial artist in a mascot-style frog costume.
The whole film boils down to a series of absurdist insider references to ’70s Japanese cinema, but there’s no more narrative ambition here than a game of Tekken. It was about the scene that the kappa handed frog-man a baseball bat so he could beat to death a knitting circle of former Yakuza bosses to prevent him from psychically eye-f**king their friend ruff-man to death that I pretty much gave up.
Some might applaud its commitment to bonkers escalation, but if being a Yakuza is all about feats of endurance then anyone who makes it through this cataclysm is basically qualified to pick up a Katana.