Takashi Miike is arguably one of the most talented and successful Japanese film directors of all times, standing alongside greats like Sion Sono in the shadow of the legendary Akira Kurosawa. He has proven, time and time again, that he has essentially mastered the art of enthralling filmmaking, but more striking than that is his remarkable ability to adapt Video Games, Anime, and Manga of any kind into worthwhile films the likes of which there is no comparison, apart from perhaps Keishi Ohtomo’s Rurouni Kenshin live-action film trilogy, and Shusuke Kaneko’s 2006 Death Note film, all of which have been received incredibly well the world over.
Between faithfully adapting Anime, Manga, and Video Games, Takashi Miike sticks to his filmmaking roots by writing and developing his own original concepts, unafraid to push the boundaries artistically, technologically, and creatively. One of his latest directorial masterpieces is the film Yakuza Apocalypse; an boggling cinematic experience written by Yoshitaka Yamaguchi who is a relatively new filmmaker who you may know was the driving force behind comedy film Samurai Cat, and Horror spectacle Arcana. Yakuza Apocalypse is a film that features blood, gore, practical effects, an outlandish story, and a sense of humour unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Fearsome Yakuza boss, Kamiura also happens to be a bloodsucking vampire. Though he is not immune to death. After he is torn limb from limb in a fierce clan turf war, he sires his loyal lieutenant Kageyama. As he begins to awaken to his newfound abilities, Kageyama’s desire to avenge the murder of boss Kamiura sets him on a course for a violent confrontation with Kaeru-kun, the foreign syndicate’s mysterious and seemingly unstoppable leader!
The latest burst of gloriously berserk creativity from the mind of Takashi Miike (ICHI: THE KILLER, 13 ASSASSINS) – YAKUZA APOCALYPSE is a return to the filmmaker’s chaotic cult roots, and has everything his fans could ever want: rampaging violence, slapstick comedy, volcanoes, animation, giant monsters, vampire gangsters and a baseball bat-wielding vigilante martial artist in a manky frog costume. – Madman Entertainment
Yakuza Apocalypse features a few key elements that B-Grade thriller films simply do not, and yet that’s exactly what this is: Not only is it directed by a master of cinematography, it has a decent budget, detailed environmental pieces, an incredibly hard-hitting soundtrack, wondrous choreography, and a cast of worthwhile actors and actresses. It plays out in an incredibly confusing way, simply because it constantly switches between that of an honest action film and a goofy satire flick, but I don’t think that takes away from the movie at all, in fact, I actually think it speaks volumes about the minds behind it. To able to write and direct a film that stays true to itself while constantly shifting dynamics and keeping the audience entertained is an incredible accomplishment, and most directors simply cannot pull it off. To see something of it’s kind in what is essentially a second-rate horror film from the early 90s is, for lack of a better phrase; awe-inspiring.
The film plays host to a very peculiar sense of humour that is can be enjoyed on many different levels, both shallow or otherwise, but is most suited to those who feel as though they have the mind for picking apart a gag to decipher why exactly they think it was funny. There’s a lot that is shown or said throughout this movie that I can honestly say would go over many people’s heads if they weren’t watching with the intention of having a fun time, and that’s not to say those types of people aren’t deserving enough to enjoy this film, it comes down to how much they’re willing to invest in it. Every joke, every character, every story development features multiple levels. Outright, you’re given the first level which is enjoyable enough of it’s own accord, but it’s only when you take the time to consider the layers that you get the most out of this.
Yakuza Apocalypse is not an intellectual film by any measure, this is not what I refer to when I say that it has a complex level of writing. I believe that, thanks to a mix between Yamaguchi’s experience with writing comedy and Miike’s ability to bring out the inner potential of any given scene, together they have created this comedic/action masterpiece that speaks not only to the comedian inside of us, but also those of us out there who’re in it for the high-octane combat, yet also simply enjoy first-rate filmmaking. Unfortunately due to it’s ludicrous storyline, many audiences would write this off as just another terrible B-Grade thriller flick, but when thinking about it as a Japanese equivalent to Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s Cabin In The Woods, it become a great deal easier to digest as a whole.
Thanks to Takashi Miike’s incredible directorial ability, the film features some incredible visuals that rely heavily on quick camera work and techniques found mostly in Yakuza and Delinquent films of which Takashi Miike is quite fond of. The influence Miike’s previous films had on Yakuza Apocalypse were overtly obvious which, despite how this sentence was worded, is something I never once considered to be a negative. In fact, I found it fantastic that he would take what he had learnt on the set of other films and use it in a way to make this one great. You see this with Hollywood directors like Quenten Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, but not as often in Japanese productions so it was a treat to be able to make direct correlations between this and his previous ventures.
What I found to be the most enjoyable element of this movie was Takashi Miike’s penchant for practical effects. There were really only three or four small uses of computer generated imagery throughout the film, and despite the fact that they didn’t look all that great, it thankfully didn’t take away from the movie. If anything, it actually added to the level of humour this film leaned into so heavily. The film’s environmental pieces were incredibly built, and it really allowed for the setting to develop around the story without any dialogue directly referring to it, which I found to be akin to that of the Coen Brothers who inject a keen sense of “place” into each and every one of their productions.
As mentioned briefly above; Yakuza Apocalypse also features an incredibly fitting soundtrack that is occupied mostly by that of shredding guitar riffs and powerful percussions. As a perfect backup to each and every individual scene, the soundtrack allowed the film to quickly change gears which, in turn, gave the audience the opportunity to instantly follow, once again; something not many movies can pull off as successfully. Even more effective than the placement of certain tracks throughout the film, were the times wherein which all music was taken out of a scene for the sake of landing a joke that had been set up subtly throughout the bulk of an act. I find that silence can be just as powerful as sound, and it is used in Yakuza Apocalypse flawlessly.
While this film is a technical masterpiece in the way that it has been written and filmed, it is, at it’s core, a bizarre comedy that is meant to confuse and delight audiences at a mostly basic level. While, as I mentioned earlier, there is a lot to be loved beneath the surface of this film, it is still enjoyable without overly contemplative. I loved this film because I went into it with a somewhat understand mindset, not expecting anything until it was shown to me, and doing my best to understand it as it was delivered. That truly is the best way to go about watching this film because, at times, I was delighted by the overwhelming choreography of a fight scene but then brought to tears of laughter thanks to a well-timed visual gag.
Going in thinking this film is one or the other (action or comedy), or even thinking that it is both will, in effect, diminish your personal experience, but going into it simply thinking that you’re going to see some near-unexplainable crap that will make you want to learn karate but also take up a comedy class makes all the difference. There’s a fine line, but half the fun is Finding it! I love Takashi Miike, I love his films, and now thanks to Yakuza Apocalypse I’m now aware of the golden writing of Yoshitaka Yamaguchi. Boiling it down to it’s absolute base; Yakuza Apocalypse is a movie that you’ll love, and even if it’s not for any of the reasons I’ve listed throughout this review, it doesn’t matter. Yakuza Apocalypse gives audiences the room to find what they like about it and bring it to the forefront. If you can think of a film that does it better…than you’ve yet to watch Yakuza Apocalypse.
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