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Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse Is a Mix of Inspired Lunacy and Dead Air

By  · Published on September 28th, 2015

Samuel Goldwyn Films

Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

Takashi Miike is an incredibly inconsistent director in terms of quality, but that should almost be expected from someone as productive as he is – he averages at least two films per year, so along with the highs of The Mole Song and Lesson of the Evil we also get lesser films like Hara-Kiri and Over Your Dead Body. It also means we’ll sometimes get films that fall somewhere in the middle. His latest, Yakuza Apocalypse, shows flashes of his trademarked manic brilliance, but it ultimately lands as an hour of fun in a nearly two-hour running time.

Kageyama is a young, industrious member of the yakuza who happens to work for an undead boss named Kamiura. He’s a vampire who uses his powers to run his clan while keeping the civilians in the area safe, happy, and protected from gentrification and unfair business practices. Kamiura is finally defeated though leaving Kageyama to inherit his bloodthirsty talents, but the younger yakuza lacks a certain something required for the job – namely self control. Soon the town is divided between the living and the undead, with many of the latter being yakuza vampires who sit around all day being lazy, cantankerous, gambling pricks.

As the town descends into war outsiders add uncertainty and absurdity to the mix. One is a Django-inspired priest who arrives towing a coffin behind him, and another is a talented fighter named Kyoken (Yayan Ruhian, The Raid). Oh, and there’s also a humanoid kappa (part human, part turtle) and “the world’s toughest terrorist,” who it turns out is a man-sized felt frog.

Miike and screenwriter Yoshitaka Yamaguchi are clearly having fun here, and there are more than a few glimpses of Miike’s insane, pop brilliance. The fight pictured above is great fun, and the script skewers the yakuza more often than it highlights them as the cool character types so many films have settled for. The vampires even point out how sweet civilian blood is compared to the bitter, nutrition-free variety flowing through yakuza veins. “There was a time when being a man meant being yakuza,” says a character at one point, and it’s clear that the reverence for the lifestyle and implied manliness of the gangsters has long passed.

Unfortunately though, for every inspired minute there’s another one of dullness or absurdity for absurdity’s sake. The uneven nature of it all makes it difficult to get fully on board with our leads, and an attempt at infusing a love story into the mix fares no better.

Worse, and in many ways unforgivable, the film completely wastes the presence of Ruhian. His character factors into a big third-act brawl, but its execution is almost impossibly boring. Ruhian is a human Tasmanian Devil, a bundle of barely contained power and speed just waiting to be unleashed, but Miike seems more interested in spending time with costumed characters and other oddities who lack much of anything beneath the fabric.

Yakuza Apocalypse is still worth a watch by Miike fans as his energetic imagination spills onto the screen periodically throughout, but the long stretches of cheese and flatness keep it far away from his best work.

The Upside: Some brilliant insanity

The Downside: Not nearly enough insanity; large pockets of dead air; overstays its welcome; utterly wastes Yayan “Mad Dog” Ruhian

Read more of our Fantastic Fest 2015 coverage here.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.