11:00 - 6th August 2016, by NEO Staff

Yakuza Apocalypse

A yakuza boss is attacked by a rival gang – again, again and again – but he just won’t die. Even when he’s stabbed, shot and beaten, crime kingpin Kamiura (Lily Franky) still slaughters his attackers. Unknown to his loyal henchman Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), Kamiura is a vampire and immortal. That is until assassins from the Syndicate, including a lethal martial artist (Yayan Ruhian), arrive to finish Kamiura off. Before he kicks the bucket, the yakuza boss transfers his vampire powers to Kageyama, meaning the henchman has to deal with his own bloodthirstiness as he pursues the mysterious Syndicate – led by an unstoppable man in a fuzzy frog outfit.

Despite this bizarre premise, director Takashi Miike impresses on the technical front. There is moody low-key lighting, which gives a film noir feel to the proceedings, as well as impressive computer and prosthetic effects. This puts it in the same vein as Miike’s other recent bloody extravaganzas, like Lesson of Evil and 13 Assassins. While it isn’t perfect, he is still making more than one film a year, and packs a lot into this weird and wonderful tale.

The slick production values can give the wrong impression about the film – often it feels like a dark yakuza thriller, like 2001’s Agitator, not least because of the straight-faced acting. After the appearance of a high-pitched kappa demon, and a group of knitting-obsessed civilians harvested for their blood (by Denden in the role of a shady chef), there’s clearly more than meets the eye. In fact, you have to take the whole film with your tongue firmly in cheek or you’ll just get frustrated.

The only problem is the length– almost two hours – and this is probably because of the mammoth task that Miike has undertaken, aided and abetted by scriptwriter Yoshitaka Yamaguchi. The usual conventions of yakuza thrillers, vampire horrors and martial arts films are all ripe for spoof. The gangland rise-and-fall tale is parodied by way of the vampire film; the Twilight films, other vampire tales and big boss figures, are satirised through the mysterious Syndicate; and every climactic brawl in film history is lampooned through a hilarious final fist-fight.

However, these points still don’t fully explain why brains melt, why milk is being used to grow people, nor the revelations of the frog character. But hey, it’s Miike. Nonetheless, for every scene or joke that doesn’t work, there are other funnier ones. Ruhian’s martial-artist-disguised-as-an-otaku steals every scene, as does the mysterious Syndicate frog boss (especially when he unleashes his terrifying stare!). The explanation of the consequences of gangsters turning into vampires, complete with chalkboard diagrams, is amusing too – especially because of Denden’s deadpan delivery.

This may not be Miike’s finest hour – and it could do with a trim – but it’s definitely one for diehard fans, especially those who appreciate his bizarre sense of humour. If you’ve seen Deadly Outlaw Rekka and wondered what that would be like with vampires and a sinister frog – you’re in luck. For everyone else, just remember, it’s a comedy!

As is the case with recent Miike releases, this is a little on the long side but not lacking in his usual craziness. Blood, vampires, frogs and plenty of fights will keep anyone’s attention. The nonsense is part of the fun – after all, it’s a comedy – and Miike seems to fully enjoy spinning the various genres on their head.
SCORE: 3/5
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