In the early 2000’s, prolific director Takeshi Miike bridged the gap from Japan to the United States with a rapid series of gonzo movies that seemed to defy genre. 1999’s Audition begins as a romantic comedy before it spirals into hallucinatory brutal horror that bested many American horror movies in its emotional brutality. 2001’s Ichi the Killer is a feuding yakuza film filtered through a dark comedy with horrific violence and an emotionally damaged center. 2002’s The Happiness of the Katakuris is a dark comedy horror musical and family drama centered around a cursed inn run by a tight-knit family. Miike’s primary identity in America was defined by his heightened sensibilities and his seemingly darkly comic creations.
Yakuza Apocalypse follows, self-consciously, in this trend. The ornate, constantly-changing, plot is impossible to grasp nevertheless summarize. It has something to do with a man who rose to the top of a Yakuza family through a The Raid: Redemption style slaughter, which he survives because he’s a vampire. Eventually, the altruistic boss, followed closely by a clueless sycophantic follower, Kagayama, is targeted by a pair of vampire hunters who seem to want to bring him back into the fold? And then there’s a kappa goblin and a demon and a prisoner knitting circle and…
Even though Yakuza Apocalypse is an original IP, the stream-of-consciousness plot of chaos feels like a whole manga series was poorly compressed into two hours, leaving little room for explanation or sanity. Factor in Takeshi Miike’s usual film-on-the-fly style and a budget seemingly low enough to make Lloyd Kaufman sympathetic, and Yakuza Apocalypse seems more like a pre-made cult movie than a film of gonzo genius. The bizarre elements that infiltrate and drive the plot have little rhyme or reason for their own existence, never fully justifying the film’s 2 hour running time.
Still, if a yakuza movie with furious martial arts, a kaiju monster, and a woman growing underwear-clad children in a garden seems like it might be up your alley, I can’t dissuade you from seeing the movie. This is a movie that still goes up to 11, and you never know what the hell is coming around the next corner (though, because it is Japan, there is a trigger warning for rape). For what it is, it’s damned entertaining, but it doesn’t have nearly the absurd poignancy (or even coherency) of Miike’s original cross-over hits.