Takashi Miike is one of the most important directors in modern Japanese cinema, a statement that normally goes without saying. With a career spanning longer than 25 years, and far more productions to his name than the number of years he’s been active, it’s a difficult and overwhelming task to venture into the career of one of the country’s most divisive directors. In Yakuza Apocalypse – Miike’s latest work – the director goes into the project with a plot lined with ambition and intent. It’s a film that hits hard in the opening minutes, and stays strong for a large proportion of its runtime. That said, the film is longer than that, by a lot – and eventually this drags the film down into an exhausting, repetitive mess. It’s got a lot of fantastic moments and markedly memorable scenes that will please long term Miike fans, but it’s also a work that disappoints far more than the directors best works – A number of films you can only just count on two hands.
It’s a work that flirts with the absurdity that is inherent in the aura that surrounds the Yakuza, the stories of vampires, and the broader idea of a monster film in Japan. At its best, Yakuza Apocalypse is a deeply intertextual critique that mocks mythologies surrounding organisations like the Yakuza, and gleefully places the innocent pieces of pop culture and traditional mythologies as the most fearsome villains in the film. One of the earlier and more on-point critiques in the film is found in a scene where the head of the Yakuza goes to drink at his fixture. It is here that Miike reveals to the audience that underneath the bar is a group of men who are being kept and harvested in the basement to be killed and served to the head figure; a vampire who requires blood to live. It plays into the perceptions of the Yakuza and the endless legends around the organisation by playing into and taking such an absurdity to its endpoint. That said, like a lot of the film, Miike’s scenes and plots linger on stage, slowly falling apart, and becoming more grating than amusing.
Miike wants to do a lot with Yakuza Apocalypse. The film opens as a satire of the Yakuza, before quickly becoming a vampire-zombie thriller, before it develops into an action-adventure fantasy, flirting with strokes of action cinema, focusing on drawn-out fights, before finally deciding to settle on the form of an end-of-worlds apocalypse monster movie in which a giant plushy frog dances in front of an exploding Mount Fuji. If anything, at least Yakuza Apocalypse is memorable. There’s not many films quite like it, however, its problem lies in this uniqueness. As a work, Yakuza Apocalypse collates themes, ideas, and cliches from a collection of films that tackle the content it appropriates in far more effective and entertaining ways. The opening shot is reminiscent of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity series, the monster sub-plot far better expressed in the strongest Godzilla works, and the rest of the aspects of the film have already covered by Miike in the past in far more effective ways.1
It’s a fascinating experiment for the director to combine such a wide array of ideas, themes, and plots in Yakuza Apocalypse but it’s also clear that a project which successfully did this would require a sense of patience and application that Miike doesn’t have time for as a director. It’s a sense of spontaneity that makes his strongest works as memorable as they are, but a feature of his work that simultaneously brings down his weaker offerings. Yakuza Apocalypse is a film likely to screen well domestically in Japan, with the vicissitudes of Miike’s incessant pop culture references difficult to keep up with. Even with a strong background in Japanese cinema, however, on a critical level that considers Miike’s potential as a filmmaker, it’s disappointing. As a director with over 40 films to his name now, Miike seems keen to push the limits of genre and excess, and while the first half of Yakuza Apocalypse gives the director one of his more entertaining ventures to date; by the end it’s clear the film could be cut – drastically – and be much better for it.