Yakuza Apocalypse (2015)

Directed by
Something of a return to form for Miike
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-07-24

Yakuza boss Genyo Kamiura is loved by all the citizens of the town he runs, offering protection and stability and enforcing a strict code of never hurting civilians amongst his men. This all comes to an end when assassins ambush him and leave him decapitated. His protégé and right hand man Ichihara is distraught to witness the slaying and be unable to protect his boss. He's perhaps even more distraught when his boss's severed head bites his neck and tells him it is his turn to become a Yakuza Vampire.

YAKUZA APOCALYPSE was the first Takashi Miike film in a long time to deliver the sort of wild and unpredictable moments that characterised his films in the late 90's and early 2000's, with a plot that quickly goes off the rails and becomes a series of swerves and feints. There's a nice little message about Yakuza being vampires on society, but it doesn't really matter when you've got Yayan Ruhian running around town busting heads and a legendary kung fu fighter in a frog costume.

It's good to see Takashi Miike having fun again, letting his creativity loose... I guess that means it's good to see that somebody was willing to give him the money to do so again, after quite a long drought.

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I first saw YAKUZA APOCALYPSE at the London International Film Festival in 2015, and was kind of disappointed - watching it again I'm not sure why, but it didn't really click with me the first time around. I still think it isn't up to the standard of his most fertile creative period, the absurdity seems a little forced rather than being in service of a genuine vision, but it's a fun time.

With Yayan Ruhian onboard the film's fight scenes are perhaps disappointing, they're certainly not up to the standard of The Raid: Redemption or Wira. Fights in Takashi Miike's films tend to be brawls rather than martial arts demonstrations, and that mostly holds true here too - they're not filmed in a way that showcases the fighters' skills (though the frog man's Bruce Lee imitations are pretty good - apparently it's stuntman Masanori Mimoto under the costume).

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The final showdown between Hayato Ichihara and Yayan Ruhian is especially disappointing - the film has been building to a face off between these two skilled fighters and history has led us to expect a final fight with Yayan Ruhian to be epic... but they just stand there punching each other in the face until one of them falls. I think this quite upset me when I first saw it, and probably contributed a fair amount to the luke warm feelings I left the cinema with. I at least knew what to expect this time so I hadn't built up expectations for it to smash, but whilst I can sort of appreciate what they were trying to do it is still a bit of a let down.

Whilst it's not as off the wall as something like Yakuza Weapon, YAKUZA APOCALYPSE does have much higher production values and is more entertaining than most of Miike's output in the 2010's. It still doesn't restore Miike's title as the Bad Boy of Japanese Cinema - Sion Sono released 4 or 5 films in 2015 that were as good or better and has reached even greater heights since then... whilst Miike released Laplace's Witch. It did at least put him back in the running though.