Original Title: Gokudo Daisenso
Directed by Takashi Miike Produced by Yoshinori Chiba, Shin'ichiro Masuda, Shinjiro Nishimura, Misako Saka Action by Keiji Tsujii, Seigi Deguchi
Starring: Hayato Ichihara, Riko Narumi, Sho Aoyagi, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Ryushin Tei, Yayan Ruhian, Masanori Mimoto, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Yuki Sakurai, Denden, Lily Franky
Reviewing: Manga UK DVD Release
Genres: Action / Comedy / Gangster / Horror
Rating - 4 / 5
DVD Synopsis: From prolific and controversial director, Takashi Miike comes the action-packed horror showcasing all of his bizarre, yet fun signature style. Due to his sensitive skin, Kageyama is ridiculed by his fellow Yakuza clan members for being the only one who cannot be branded with their signature tattoo. When Kamiura, the fearsome Yakuza boss who also happens to be a bloodsucking vampire is brutally killed by a competing clan, he passes on his vampire powers to his loyal lieutenant. Now Kageyama is transformed into a bloodthirsty monster who will stop at nothing to avenge his former boss.
Views: The unstoppable Takashi Miike returns to the dark underworld of the Japanese gangsters, although this time with a horror twist. Feared Yakuza boss Kamiura is a legend to many around town, and is rumoured to be invincible after many years of surviving brutal attacks and attempts on his life. The truth though, is that Kamiura is a bloodsucking vampire. Among Kamiura's people is Kageyama, a minion who continuously fights to prove himself as his bosses most loyal man – although is picked on and hated by his gangster brothers for his inability to get tattooed due to his sensitive skin. After his boss is killed by a group of international assassins from a secret syndicate, Kageyama inherits the vampire powers of his boss and finds it hard to focus on his newfound abilities. But once aware of what he can do, he sets out to avenge the death of his boss and soon finds himself in many violent battles with the syndicate, leading to a brutal finale against their mysterious and unstoppable leader!
Much like many of Takashi Miike's movies, Yakuza Apocalypse is totally bonkers, but in a good way. While it contains equally as much madness like Ichi The Killer, City Of Lost Souls, Gozu, and the Dead Or Alive Trilogy, Yakuza Apocalypse proves to be a much tidier and better made film overall – with Miike having honed his skills in over 40 productions in the decade that followed such titles. It also confirms why the man is one of the greatest gonzo film-makers out there and while it's not to everyone's taste, there's certainly no denying that the film entertains on many levels – whether you get it or not. Yakuza Apocalypse is just dripping with the most surreal things as well as an eccentric bunch of characters such as vampire gangsters, a martial arts master in a frog costume (who then reveals himself to be something even more bizarre), a gun-toting priest that looks like he just stepped out of a William Shakespeare play, a woman that squirts liquid from her ears, a crazed kappa goblin (yokai), an axe wielding kid, and so much more including a giant frog that wants to destroy the world and a knitting circle that is used as a front for a blood farm. It all proves to be a highly unpredictable experience which, at the same time, is probably what hindered its box office takings...
While many reviewers and critics have tried looking too deep into what Yakuza Apocalypse all means, I say just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It's a simple revenge tale set in a world of gangsters, bedazzled with a large helping of Miike madness that takes it all to another level. Scribed by writer Yoshitaka Yamaguchi, in what would be only his third script after Arcana and Samurai Cat (both of which he directed himself), Yoshi also worked with Miike as an assistant director on projects such as One Missed Call, Yatterman, Blade Of The Immortal, and his episode for the Masters Of Horror series, Imprint. Mind you, I thought it was odd that he didn't join Takashi once again as an assistant director here, leaving that up to no less than 4 other co-directors, one of which includes Kentaro Harada who worked alongside Miike on Lesson Of The Evil. While his screenplay is often funny and hits on the horror elements positively, it does have it flaws and isn't really as memorable as the visuals that bring it to life, which comes courtesy of cinematographer Hajime Kanada – a DOP who has also worked on titles such as the wonderful Gohatto, Free Kitchen, Demekin (for writer/director Yoshitaka Tamaguchi) and the documentaries, Sonny Chiba: A Life In Action. The fantastic action scenes, most of which are well-choreographed martial arts battles, are handled by long-time Takashi Miike cohort Kiji Tsujii who has been the fight and stunt co-ordinator on titles such as The Great Yokai War, 13 Assassins, Hara-Kiri, Lesson Of The Evil, and Blade of The Immortal – so action fans can be guaranteed to get their money's worth here.
Cast wise, everyone does well in their roles – albeit without delivering anything groundbreaking or outstanding in anyway. Hayato Ichihara takes the lead as Akira Kageyama, the gangster with a skin condition who gives a great performance and looks great in the action department when he goes up against some pretty tough opponents. Launching his career at the turn-of-the-century in Ju-On 2: The Curse (The Grudge 2) he has since gone on to star in some fantastic titles such as Rainbow Song, God's Puzzle, Samurai Sensei, and a host of television shows – as well as returning to work with Miike on the gorgeous, Blade Of The Immortal. One of his opponents is Indonesian action star Yayan Ruhian, reprising a character listed as Mad Dog much like that of his role in the box office smash, The Raid. This was a clever move by Miike in bringing in such an actor who had just came off the set of The Raid 2 and would also have a small role in Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens, the same year as this. Of course, anyone who is a die-hard fan of the martial artist but had not yet experienced a Takashi Miike film as yet, would no doubt be tracking down Yakuza Apocalypse where they would get to see Yayan kick ass a number of times – and once while dressed in the geekiest of outfits with a backpack full of maps. It's yet another bizarre moment but allows the star to show some impressive moves against a number of people throughout the film's 2-hour running time. I would have to say that it would be between him and the Mad Frog, who steals the show each time they are on screen. This great character is played by Masanori Mimoto, a Japanese actor and choreographer who has worked with Donnie Yen on Enter The Fat Dragon as well as appearing in many fun titles like Silver Hawk with Michelle Yeoh, Death Note, Alien Vs Ninja, Re: Born, and God Of War with Vincent Zhao Wen Zhao. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I did have the pleasure of screening his great action thriller, Hydra, at our festival in 2019 and I do think he is a name to keep an eye on in terms of action cinema. As Mad Frog, Mimoto kicks ass in a full frog costume (which much have been a killer to fight in) and just as much when out of it. The great Lily Franky also delivers a strong role as Kamiura, the vampire Yakuza boss, with Ryushin Tei as the killer priest, along with Makoto Sakaguchi, Riko Narumi, Sho Aoyagi, and many more!
While the first screening of Yakuza Apocalypse threw me a little with its mad concepts and surprises, I have to say that I definitely enjoyed it even more second time around (and so on). It proves to be a lot of fun, with a great balance of action, horror, comedy, and even drama, so is bound to please – or at the very least, tickle – even the most snobbiest of cinephiles who sit down to their first watch. As I mentioned before, it's a well-made production and out of the two films Miike made in 2015 (with the other being the lesser-known drama, The Lion Standing In The Wind) this has obviously proven to be the more popular one with his fans, leading on to his action-packed (and just as crazy) sci-fi flick, Terraformers, the following year. Mental fun, but definitely worth checking out...
Overall: Unpredictable, absurd, funny, action packed, and so much more, Yakuza Apocalypse is one wild ride that won't appeal to everyone, but is well worth a watch!