I’m not a fan of 21st Century Asian horror. It gets a little too torture porn for me sometimes, and runs parallel with the current cycle of American torture porn. Let me rephrase that, though: I’m not a fan of 21st Century Asian horror YET, but I might be getting there. Somehow I was ignorant that Takashi Miike directed Yakuza Apocalypse (2015), also known as Gokudou daisensou, so I turned this movie on without any expectation baggage. I knew his style and reputation from Audition (1999) and Ichi the Killer (2001), but I don’t know why Miike isn’t one of my favorite living filmmakers if only for Happiness of the Katakuris (2001).
In the opening, Yakuza boss Kamiura (Riri Furanki) tears through a building with a katana delivering at least thirteen visually confirmed kills until making it upstairs to a rival boss who puts six bullets in his chest and another in his head. This doesn’t stop Kamiura, but he certainly stops the rival boss for good. We’re at about 2:45 here and what we’re seeing reads more like the final fight from a modern Asian gangster film until a woman helps the wounded and gorily bleeding boss into her house where he bites her neck, and besides her, nobody knows that Yakuza boss Kamiura is a vampire.
We were already introduced to the main protagonist, Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), when he briefly narrates the scene before, and now we meet him in the flesh as one of Kamiura’s inner circle. He is enamored of his boss who is a do-gooder, regularly helping “citizens” and on principal not harming citizens in his work or his need for blood. Kageyama is a lot like his boss, though a little more boy scoutish. They rescue a rape victim from a Yakuza member, and he visits her in the hospital throughout the story.
Boss Kamiura is such a do-gooder he stops a father/son murder-suicide and helps them out financially. These characters are basically like Bonasera, the funeral director in The Godfather, who appears in the beginning of the Coppola masterpiece in a deceptively deletable scene. It’s so long till Bonsera is seen on screen again that we forget about him when he returns the favor to the Don by embalming Sonny who looks like the car in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). In other words, while Miike shows Kamiura’s character through this scene he is also setting up some later payoffs. This entire film, in fact, is a ball of yarn of characters with dozens of ends and dozens of plants and payoffs, which all get tied together rather nicely.
Boss Kamiura takes Kageyama to a restaurant where the owner Hougan (Denden) pours Kageyama a shot so paint-like red it looks like Hammer Horror served it. He unquestioningly drinks it, runs outside, pukes, runs back in and asks for another. The guy is dedicated to the Yakuza cause.
At this point we are past the ten-minute mark of the film. In fact, I skipped an absurd scene—one of many—on purpose so I wouldn’t spoil it. So this movie easily passes my ten-minute film test. If I had happened along on this late one night I would’ve kept going and gone to work tired the next day.
What follows in the rest of Yakuza Apocalypse is a story filled with the rising action of an ape being scientifically evolved into a human in a few hours. That’s not in the film, just an analogy. The gangster flick we open with is not the same by the end at all. Yakuza Apocalypse is a story of mythic proportions filled with cultural analogies, textbook film Absurdism and the turning of at least three genres on their ears without deterring from those genres. The first two are obvious: crime and horror, but the third would be a spoiler. Just imagine if Lloyd Kaufman directed a Troma film straight, straight as an art film, and that’s the tone and mood and even the content of Yakuza Apocalypse.
The cast is a veritable trading card collection of original iconic characters. One character looks like the product of love between Witchfinder-General Vincent Price and Shakespeare. There’s a traditional but modern and smelly Kappa Goblin, a kid with an axe who knows how to use it, and Yayan Ruhian of The Raid: Redemption (2011) fame playing Kyoken, in what appears a student disguise, who fights wearing glasses and a backpack stuffed with rolled up posters or blueprints that never get bent. And Miike utilizes Ruhian thoroughly and satisfyingly. Kageyama’s transformation after he becomes a vampire deserves at least three cards as does the prophetic “modern monster” or “the world’s toughest terrorist” who shows up late in the show and steals it, but I saved that from spoilage just for you.
All of this is layered with a sometimes Morricone-inspired Western score, vampirism as a metaphor for the Yakuza, a huge street fight of fifty or more people, a Yakuza Captain’s slow but crazy deterioration, earthquakes, an E.T. fingertouch and an 80s slow clap, all of which should define overkill but reveals a level of Absurdism staunched in Realism akin only to Luis Bunuel, but with lots more action, tons more horror, and all the time delivering its promise of Yakuza and eventually Apocalypse as well.
Why should you watch this? If you’re on cinema burnout and unimpressed by everything so far, then don’t miss the neckbreaking kill or the one sequence you don’t want to miss, the unspoiled “modern monster” mentioned above, which is worth admission for me if I ever see this on a theatre marquee.
What’s wrong with it? The plot is definingly convoluted and hard to keep up with. The fight scenes are edited, so you’re not going to get a nice uncut fight like the hallway scene in the original Old Boy (2003). And classic vampire fans may not like the apparent broken rules of vampirism that show vampires in broad daylight. I’m a classic vampire lover myself with a solid education from Montague Summers, Augustin Calmet and Bernhardt J. Hurwood, whose work taught me that Western vampire rules dominate movie culture, but Asian vampires live and die by wholly different rules. But hey, they don’t sparkle.
What did I learn myself as an aspiring filmmaker? Miike’s subtle balance of CG and practical effects, the juggling of so many characters each with his or her own arc, the gradual and logical transition from classic gangster film to—well, I promised not to spoil that, but what Miike does at the end of this film with story, forced perspective and superimposing images is dictionary-genius.
Don’t let the convoluted plot and all my isms here deter you from viewing this incredible film by a living director whose catalogue of work though very eclectic will surely stand the test of time and prove his genius.