Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld is not as epic as the title would have you hoping for; but, it is a new Miike yakuza film nonetheless!
In modern times, few have more experience making yakuza films than legendary director Takashi Miike (Dead or Alive) (Ichi the Killer) (Deadly Outlaw: Rekka). In the last few years, Miike has been directing largely commercial projects that have sprawled a myriad of genres. Now, Miike gets a chance to return to his film-making roots with this v-cinema (direct to video) styled yakuza movie.
Yakuza Apocalypse begins with everything you would expect and hope for from Miike. It seems Miike is bringing a little bit of everything that he has learned through his prolific directing career to the table with Yakuza Apocalypse, feeling like his older work but with the polish of his newer films. So for the first 25 minutes of the film, it feels as if you are witnessing a bit of a rebirth from Miike. Sadly, the feeling doesn’t last.
The films initial strength really came from the character Kageyama (Hayato Ishihara), the loyal soldier and personal guard of the main boss. He is written with a hilariously fresh take on the yakuza. As an enthusiastic and promising young yakuza, Kageyama is passionate about upholding the values of what makes “a true yakuza,” which have been glorified through movies he watched while growing up. For him, the yakuza path is the only way to be a true “man.” However, he has super sensitive skin and is unable to get a proper yakuza tattoo, which cause his peers to make fun of him.
Nonetheless, the boss is very fond of Kageyama. Then, due to some events, the boss is forced to prematurely turn Kageyama into a vampire. From this point on, everything that was going so well for the film turns on its head and takes almost a whole new trajectory. We almost completely lose the Kageyama character while other subplots open up. Not that the film becomes bad, it just turns out to be less interesting as a whole when the elevated levels of wackiness begin.
Even as you wish the film stays with Kageyama more than it does, there are still elements to enjoy in Yakuza Apocalypse. For instance, when the rumored super assassin enters town, you won’t believe what you are seeing. Yeah, it is the hilariously over-sized giant frog-suit thing from the movie poster. You have to see it to believe it, but he gives even the best yakuza fighters a run for their money. Also, when the apocalypse kicks in and the town becomes infected, the results are unexpected and quite entertaining.
On the down side, the action scenes leave a lot to be desired. We’ve got the Indonesian martial arts star from The Raid films (Yayan Ruhian) who goes pretty much unused. The other vampire and gangster action is mediocre and is only saved by the occasional character or situational oddity gags that can be credited to Miike “doing his thing.”
Yakuza Apocalypse can be summed up as a bit of a disappointment. However, there is a lot to have fun with here. It can make for great party entertainment, or a chance to take a fun mental break. There are quite a few breakaways from conventional vampire and gangster norms that keep Yakuza Apocalypse interesting enough.
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