aka Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld
Director – Takashi Miike, Screenplay – Yoshitaka Yamaguchi, Producers – Yoshinori Chiba, Shinichiro Masuda, Shinjiro Nishimura & Misako Saka, Photography – Hajime Kanda, Music – Koji Endo, Visual Effects Supervisor – Kaori Otagaki, Special Effects Supervisor – Satoshi Narumi, Production Design – Akira Sakamoto. Production Company – Backup Media/Nikkatsu/Gambit/Happinet/OLM/Django Film
Hayato Ichihara (Kageyama), Lily Frankie (Kamiura), Yayan Ruhian (Kyoken), Riko Narumi (Kyoko), Reiko Takashima (Sosuke), Denden (Hougan), Kiyohiko Shibukawa (Angus), Masanori Mimoto (The Frog)
Kamiura is a yakuza head who is much loved and respected by all of the prefecture. Kageyama is his favoured subordinate. Kamiura is then attacked and killed by two strange assassins. In dying, it is revealed that he was a vampire. His severed head bites Kageyama in the neck and Kageyama now becomes a vampire too. In his hunger for blood, Kageyama bites several civilians and they in turn bite others. Kamiura’s other yakuza associates now face vampirised civilians who turn the tables on them and form into their own yakuza guilds. All of this culminates in the arrival of the fearsome Kaeru-kun, the toughest terrorist of them all who appears dressed in a frog suit.
Japan’s Takashi Miike is a cult director. Miike emerged around 2000 and made a name for himself with wild and crazy films like Audition (1999), Ichi the Killer (2001) and Visitor Q (2001), films that went to extremes of violence and/or pushed things way across taboo lines. Alongside this, he made other efforts like Dead or Alive (1999), The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) and Gozu (2003) that were applauded for their sheer dementia. Miike has been extremely prolific, putting out 3-4 films per year, sometimes twice that, and placing his fingers into dozens of genres. A great many of these films fall into the Yakuza genre. To the disappointment of the Miike cult, as soon as his name began to grow, he began to veer off into a series of experiments that left everybody scratching their heads with the likes of the incomprehensible sf/gay prison love story Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006), the Japanese Western Sukiyaki Django Western (2007), God’s Puzzle (2008) and the madcap live-action anime adaptation YatterMan (2009).
Yakuza Apocalypse is another of these wacky Miike experiments. It feels like Miike’s version of John Landis’s Mafia vampire film Innocent Blood (1992), albeit having been rewritten as a Yakuza film. Of course, being Takashi Miike it is anything but a straightforward film. The film opens on a typically Miike-esque bloodbath. During this, we are introduced to the genial and much loved Yakuza head Lily Frankie. However, as the film progresses, Miike’s increasingly surreal sense of humour kicks in – like the scenes where we come across men chained up in a basement and made to sit at tables and knit where their feet are extended beneath the tables and the sharp heels of clogs driven into them and tolerating this becomes a test of endurance. Later the scenes in the basement are lorded over by a bizarre figure with a bird’s beak for a mouth and wearing a shirt that seems to be a partial turtle shell. Lily Frankie is then assassinated by a cowboy figure dressed in black who carries a small coffin on his back and speaks all of his dialogue in English.
Even when Yakuza Apocalypse slips into being a vampire film, it is anything but conventional – once transformed, Hayato Ichihara finds his hands have become so hot that he can crack and fry an egg on them; that whenever he bites into a victim, the kanji character for ‘suck’ appears on their forehead; while he also develops a slithering tongue. At another point, Reiko Takashima, who becomes the default leader of the Mafia, turns her head on its side and has liquid pour out of her ear – as to why, we are given no idea. The frequent sense you get in the film is that Miike made half of what is happening up on the spot.
Perhaps the funniest and most deadpan scenes in the film come where Kamiura’s associates are trying to fill the gap of his absence only to find that every other profession in the city – from nurses to public service workers and the gambling dens – have formed their own yakuza and turned against them. Miike seems to be wanting to make a metaphor here alikening yakuza preying on victims to vampires preying on blood, although you feel that the film ends up stretching its analogies far too broadly.
The most demented aspects of the film are reserved for The Frog. This is built up as the most fearsome terrorist of all. When it finally appears, the results are hysterical laughter – as the figure is none other than a person in a giant frog-headed furry suit. Of course, Miike immediately throws this on its head by having characters laughing at its appearance only for it to turn and demolish two different groups with a furious series of barehand martial arts blows, followed by it beating the entire men’s knitting circle to death. The climactic scene involves The Frog stripping off the furry suit to reveal a man with a smaller frog’s head and frog hands inside who engages Hayato Ichihara in a to-the-death battle in the streets. The last scene of the film has a very obvious volcano set rumbling and a giant-sized furry frog-suit creature emerging to trample on the very obvious model houses below in what would appear to be another of Miike’s WTF End of the World endings. Quite what it was all about, I can honestly say I have no idea.
Takashi Miike’s other genre films are:– Full Metal Yakuza (1997), a yakuza/cyborg film; the teen film Andromedia (1998) about a schoolgirl resurrected as a computer program; The Bird People in China (1998) about the discovery of a lost culture; Audition (1999); the Yakuza film Dead or Alive (1999), which comes with a totally gonzo sf ending; the surreal Dead or Alive 2 – Birds (2000); the six-hour tv mini-series MPD Psycho (2000) about a split-personalitied cop tracking a serial killer; the surreal black comedy The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001); Ichi the Killer (2001), a Yakuza film with some extreme torture scenes; the controversial taboo-defying Visitor Q (2001); the outrightly science-fictional, future-set Dead or Alive: Final (2002); the surreal Yakuza film Gozu (2003); One Missed Call (2003) about ghostly cellphone calls; the ultra-violent Izo (2004) about a cursed, immortal samurai; an episode of the horror anthology Three … Extremes (2004); the superhero film Zebraman (2004); the fairytale Demon Pond (2005); the supernatural fantasy epic The Great Yokai War (2005); Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006), a prison murder mystery with SF elements; the SF film God’s Puzzle (2008); YatterMan (2009), a gonzo live-action remake of a superpowered anime tv series; Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City (2010); Lesson of the Evil (2012) about a murderous high school teacher; As the Gods Will (2014) with high school students being slaughtered by a doll; Over Your Dead Body (2014) wherein the roles in a ghost story play come to replay themselves in the lives of the actors; Terra Formars (2016) about giant mutated cockroaches on Mars; Blade of the Immortal (2017) about an immortal samurai; JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable – Chapter 1 (2017); and Laplace’s Witch (2018).