Genre mash-ups can be a dicey proposition. Get the ratios wrong, or fail to unite the disparate elements to the overall story, and audiences will be confused as to the purpose of its stylistic medley. (Hello, Repo: The Genetic Opera and Brotherhood of the Wolf.) Get it right, and one could end up with a minor classic like Shaun of the Dead or Shaolin Soccer. Meanwhile, somewhere in between is a mild frustration—a Cowboys vs. Aliens or, regrettably, celebrated cult favorite director Takaski Miike’s latest, Yakuza Apocalypse.
By the end of the film’s opening sequence—told in Miike’s familiar, bloody-as-hell, frenetic style, we already recognize two things at play: yakuza and vampires. Fair enough, so far. Once noble-ish yakuza boss Kamiura (Lily Franky) is brutally slain by a rival syndicate—which happens to include deadly vampire hunters—Apocalypse becomes a revenge tale. Kamiura’s trusted aspiring yakuza candidate, Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), turns bloodsucker himself—he may not know yet what it means to be a leader, but he’s going to make sure his boss’ assassins pay.
Amid the subsequent splatterfest, Miike’s penchant for the weird invades the proceedings; there’s a trenchant kappa, mascot frog-suited violence, and, let’s just say those loopy insertions are quite literally dwarfed by the balls-out madness of the finale. So long as viewers surrender to the fact they will never, ever be able to follow a cohesive narrative thread (“Who the hell is that guy? Whose side is he on? Actually, where did he even come from?!”), the gratuitous action is shot with the enjoyably twisted verve Miike knows how to deliver.
While those bonkers shenanigans may be enough to recommend Apocalypse purely on its own, the genre hybrid never gels into a greater leitmotif; Miike has covered the idea of organized crime, or perhaps violence itself, as a transmutable disease to superior effect (Gozu). And for gory, middle-finger-to-good-taste violence, consider that this is the filmmaker who gifted the cinematic world with Audition and Ichi the Killer. His 13 Assassins is about as perfect as war movies get. As for truly crazy mash-ups, there’s the domestic dramedy zombie musical, The Happiness of the Katakuris.
So it’s difficult to know precisely to whom this could be recommended. Fans of the director will doubtlessly find his latest overly familiar, while the Miike-uninitiated will be left scratching their heads as to how chocolate and peanut butter don’t quite make the whole confection more delicious. On the other hand, if seeking out the filmmaker’s biggest blood-spattered successes is too much effort when it’s already after midnight, then Yakuza Apocalypse is empty calories enough.
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi
Starring: Hayato Ichihara, Yayan Ruhian, Rirî Furankî, Mio Yûki, Lily Franky, Pierre Taki, Denden, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Tetsu Watanabe, Riko Narumi, Masanori Mimoto, Reiko Takashima
Release Date: Oct. 9, 2015 (Limited)