Toronto 2015: ‘Yakuza Apocalypse’ review


Where on Earth do you start with Takashi Miike’s latest offering Yakuza Apocalypse (2015)? Perhaps the best place is with two words that will immediately signal to many people whether or this a film that they might enjoy – with emphasis on the word ‘might’. Those words are ‘Yakuza Vampire’ and this symphony of schlocky slapstick will reward those for whom they conjure up palpable anticipation of gangsters meeting the undead in a bout of comically absurd blood-letting. This is Miike back in kinds of waters that he navigated in 2002’s The Happiness of the Katakuris and fans of his more chaotic work should be well served. Of course, for one man’s chaos read another man’s shambles.

Miike isn’t known for his restraint and this is him largely letting himself off the proverbial – and already strained – leash. While it’s good fun to chuckle along with, the wafer-thin narrative and juvenile humour can only carry it so far. When the crazy comes, the foundations that have been laid for it are unsteady at best and down right sloppy at worst. The opening sequence itself works a charm, with Yakuza boss Kamiura (Lily Franky) slicing and dicing his way through a throng of minions in suitably exaggerated fashion. The sound effects are dialled-up and blood sprays in all directions. However, after you’ve seen this once you end up hoping in vain for more invention from the combat.

Kamiura meets an early demise in which it’s revealed that he’s a nightwalker, and he passes on his powers to his frowning protégé Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) who must oppose the cadre of hired killers who offed his boss. These include The Raid’s (2011) Yayan Ruhian who serves largely to build expectation to a pay-off that never arrives – there’s nothing to rival that film’s famous lutte à trois in terms of choreography or entertainment. It’s not that Miike is not capable of making the most of his actors’ abilities, and Hajime Kanda’s camerawork does a reasonable job of capturing the combatants’ energy. Instead all of this is rather lost amidst the din of the surrounding hilarity. By the time the giant frog man – yes, giant frog man – joins the fight, left-field is exploding in the rear view mirror and the genre-hopping continues into classic monster movie territory. It’s an undeniable hoot that plays very much to a specific audience but a word of warning: even those that are fans of this kind of ridiculous and farcical actioner might find themselves checking out of Yakuza Apocalypse before their stay is up. Again, with emphasis on the word ‘might’.

The Toronto International Film Festival takes place from 10-20 September 2015. For more coverage, follow this link.

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson