Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War Of The Underworld (MA)

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By Aaron Rourke

It is always exciting to see what kind of film prolific director Takashi Miike will give audiences. Whether it be the disturbed romance in his 1999 breakout hit, Audition or the manga-inspired Lunacy in 2001. One of his latest films, wedged in-between the slightly disappointing true-life drama The Lion Standing In The Wind and the upcoming big budget sci-fi Terraformers (based on a manga, this looks somewhat like Paul Verhoeven’s glorious action satire Starship Troopers), is Yakuza Apocalypse, an almost indescribable movie that is a deliberately excessive homage to Miike’s earlier body of work.

Genyo Kamiura (played by author-turned-actor Lily Franky) is a much-revered Yakuza boss who rules the local neighbourhood. One of his underlings, Akira Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), worships his seemingly unstoppable leader, who has survived a number of assassination attempts that would have killed anyone else. But when a mysterious syndicate turn up on the scene wanting the boss to return to their flock, an ultimatum that Kamiura refuses sees that he is fatally attacked by the group. Before he dies however, Kamiura bites Kageyama on the neck, turning the young apprentice into a vampire. Yes, that is correct. Kamiura was a vampire, explaining his invincible nature. Kageyama swears revenge on the syndicate boss who organised his hero’s demise, but as his supernatural powers increase, as well as the slew of odd characters arriving in town, this will prove to be a very difficult task indeed.

Director Miike and screenwriter Yoshitaka Yamaguchi let their imagination run wild, with many outrageous ideas filling its two-hour running time. Yamaguchi is perfectly in tune with Miike’s particular sensibilities. This is a crucial element considering the non-stop craziness on display. Whether or not one takes to the end result, the duo’s boldness has to be admired. The creature effects are intentionally cheesy, and the numerous vignettes are weird and wonderful, some of which have to be seen to be believed (such as an underground Yazuka knitting group, and a half-man, half-turtle henchman who has bad breath). On top of all that, wait until you see whom the syndicate boss turns out to be.

The cast are all having a whale of a time. Franky, who has been appearing more and more on screen, is a hoot as Kamiura, and his acting is improving with each film. After an effective if uneven performance in the excellent 2009 drama All Around Us, Franky then appeared in projects such as the successful TV series Moteki in 2010, which co-starred Rinki Kikuchi (Pacific Rim / Babel), the brutal The Devil’s Path (which features arguably his best role to date), and the highly enjoyable advertising satire Judge.

Ichihara, who has also worked with Miike before (in God’s Puzzle), is a relatively grounding force here, allowing the viewer to hang on to someone while the surrounding world is neck-deep in surreal confrontations and nonsensical plot-turns. This talented young actor’s blend of bluster and charm has served him well in movies such as Box, 700 Days Of Battle, Rookies (the TV series and movie spin-off), and Negative Happy Chain Saw Edge. A delicate romance between he and shy Kyoto (Riko Narumi) may seem jarring at first, but is a much-needed safety valve, cleverly breaking up the regularly bizarre behaviour. Another stand-out is Reiko Takashima (Space Battleship Yamato, K-20 : The Fiend With 20 Faces, Railways, The Hidden Blade), who is uproarious as an actress playing a male Yakuza heavy. There is a surprise appearance by martial arts expert Yayan Ruhian, who gained an instant international following with his jaw-dropping feats in the Indonesian smash The Raid.

The irony of a big budget production paying homage to low-budget V-cinema (the Japanese equivalent of direct-to-video) is not lost on Miike, who is able to create any and all scenes, no matter how ridiculous, free of any financial limitations. In that regard you could compare this to Grindhouse (2007), Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s delirious love letter to drive-in fare of the late 1970’s and early 80’s, but of course this has a decidedly off-kilter Japanese flavor. Like that double feature, this has a first-rate production, with Hajime Kanda’s colourful cinematography, Kenji Yamashita’s spot-on editing, and Koji Endo’s playful score all adding to the film’s grand sense of fun. Yamashita has edited fourteen of Miike films, the first being Yatterman (2009), while composer Endo is a long-time regular of the director, dating back to Rainy Dog in 1997.

To say Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War Of The Underworld will not be for all tastes is an incredible understatement. But for those who like to jump in at the deep end when it comes to cinema will find this an exhilarating, often hilarious genre-mash, one that sees a very confident film-maker not only in complete control of the medium, but also having immense pleasure in skewering it.

Yakuza Apocalypse will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on May 4 through Madman Entertainment.



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