Almost 25 years into his career, nearing his 100th feature film, you'd figure Takashi Miike would have settled down, if only just a little. You're probably assuming his current projects don't warrant much of a fuzz anymore, especially since he's been flirting with more commercial projects. Well, you're dead wrong. And what better proof than Miike's latest. Yakuza Apocalypse [Gokudo Daisenso] is one of Miike's crazier films, and that's saying a lot.
On a scale of improbable to implausible, Yakuza Apocalypse scores an off-the-chart impossible. Takashi Miike is part of an elite group of directors who manage to secure blockbuster-like budgets for their niche-sized projects (think Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson) and Miike is really pulling out all the stops. Yakuza Apocalypse is a film for people who believe he lost his edge, his ability to surprise and his flashes of sudden genius. And for the ones who never stopped liking Japan's most zealous, inventive director.
Trying to compare Yakuza Apocalypse to other films is probably a big waste of time, but Miike fans will recognize bits and pieces of Agitator, Sukiyaki Western Django and The Great Yokai War (just to name a few). While watching though, I was wondering what a guy like Minoru Kawasaki (Executive Koala, The Calamari Wrestler) must be thinking while watching a film like this. I wouldn't be too surprised if he was green with envy, trying to figure out what exactly Miike did to receive these kinds of budgets to throw at the weirdness on screen.
Plot-wise, don't hope to make too much sense of what is going on. It starts off quite normal, with a small town run by Kamiura, an enigmatic gangster. The fact that he's also a vampire is a little weird, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Even though the recession has hit the village, everybody copes. But then this band of weirdos tries to recruit Kamiura. He declines though, so not satisfied with his decision they opt to kill the man. And that's the point in the film where you switch off your brain entirely and just go with the flow, because if the kappa doesn't get you, the frog surely will.
It's no secret that Miike has been working with bigger budgets lately, on top of that he has 25 years of experience to pour into his films. Because films like Yakuza Apocalypse are never blessed with these types of budgets and expertise though, the result is actually a bit uncanny. Everything looks slick and polished while at the same time Miike is throwing heaps of camp at the screen. It's clearly not for everyone, but I loved it from start to finish.
The soundtrack is fun and playful, but nothing too remarkable. There are some jazzy tracks and some more western-oriented pieces, but mostly it's just background music with a clear purpose, without ever becoming too needy or demanding. The sound effects on the other hand were definitely above par, adding extra cool and weight to some otherwise very silly and ridiculous scenes. Exactly what a film like this needed.
You'd think it would be nigh impossible to find any decent actors for a film like this, luckily Miike has his reputation working for him. That doesn't mean he stuffed Yakuza Apocalypse with familiar faces, just that he found the right people for the job. Hayato Ichihara is great as the film's lead, Riri Furanki shines as the Yakuza boss and Tetsu Watanabe has a notable cameo. The guy who plays the frog left the biggest impression though, even if we never get to see his face.
As unique as Yakuza Apocalypse is, the film might have some trouble finding its core audience. It's definitely too weird for the mainstream, possibly too slick and perfected for the camp and cult fans. You really have to love the collision of these two very opposite worlds to fully appreciate what Miike did in this film. For that reason alone it's kind of hard to recommend it, it's better you just go in blank and experience it yourself. If you're looking into other reviews though and you see them talking about plot and deeper meaning, know you're probably not looking in the right place for clues.
Yakuza Apocalypse is the kind of Miike I adore. The film looks good, sounds good, is stacked with crazy ideas and even weirder characters and dares to cross the line of common sense more than once. It's the ultimate in entertainment without having to sacrifice or compromise on quality. It's the kind of film only Miike could make, leaving like-minded directors wanting they had the same privileges. Best Miike film in years, which bodes well for the future.