Sydney Underground Film Festival Review: Yakuza Apocalypse (Japan, 2015)

Director Takashi Miike is a workaholic, with 98 credits to his name on IMDb since 1991. A genre master, he has a devoted fan base; a group to which I admit I don’t belong, not because I’m not a fan, but simply because I’ve only seen one other of his films, Ace Attorney (2012), which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m told his films 13 Assassins (2010) and Ichi the Killer (2001) are must-sees and I will get to them eventually. But for now, I am a Miike novice and I certainly felt my inexperience in the audience for Yakuza Apocalypse at SUFF on Friday night. The uproarious laughter during the film made me feel like I was perhaps missing references because I unfortunately didn’t find Yakuza Apocalypse as funny or as entertaining as a particular group in the audience did.

The film opens explosively with a gory samurai sword fight between a bunch of goons and the yakuza boss Kamiura (Lily Franky). Kamiura’s enemies resort to shooting him multiple times in the torso, but that doesn’t stop the legendary fighter. His secret is that he’s a vampire, but even vampires can’t survive their heads being corkscrew pulled from their bodies. When this happens to Kamiura, his severed head takes the chance to bite and turn his loyal protégé Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) in order to transfer his powers.

Kageyama goes on a bloodthirsty rampage (as most vampires do when they’re first transformed), biting the necks of several civilians including a young boy who drags a huge axe around with him, a nurse, a schoolgirl, a shopowner and his wife. Soon, almost the whole town is turned. Kageyama vows to avenge the death of his beloved boss, who was somewhat of a hero in the town as well, giving loans to the poor during the recession and keeping greedy corporations out of the picture. The new vampire must try to harness his powers to take on Kamiura’s killers – a gothic cowboy priest who wears a ruff around his neck, spurs on his boots and a small wooden coffin on his back, and his powerful fighter sidekick disguised as a nerdy tourist, (Yayan Ruhian, who is best known as Mad Dog from The Raid series).

There are lots of other undeveloped sub-plots going on in Yakuza Apocalypse as well. A love interest to Kageyama who is recovering in hospital, a dungeon full of hostages who knit scarves while they await their fate as food for Kamiura, a stinky kappa goblin, a tough female yakuza boss who is tortured by a dripping sound in her head, and a feared ‘terrorist’ who emerges out of a volcano and is really a man dressed up in a shoddy zip-up frog suit. Somehow they’re all meant to link up but it’s never quite clear where they’ve all come from and whose side they’re on.

I’m all for a bit of oddball, surreal humour and even moreso in favour of a mash-up of genre elements which celebrates great films of the past through intertextual referencing, but Yakuza Apocalypse was messy, unfunny and resorted to juvenile visual gags too often that it became tiring and overdone. Hardcore Miike fans only need apply for this one.

Review Score: ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Yakuza Apocalypse played as part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF) over the weekend.