Longer version of piece published by Sight & Sound as part of coverage of the Cult programme at the London Film Festival 2015
Across an impossibly prolific and varied filmography, Takashi Miike has made the yakuza perhaps his most visited subject, although not always in a realist milieu. In his Dead or Alive (1999), he pitted a Shinjuku police detective against a gangster, and famously had their final explosive face-off bring about the end of the world. Yakuza Apocalypse is similar but even more joyously careless of the boundaries of genre, as it builds to an epic clash between a yakuza gang and their opponents. The gang’s boss Genyo (Lily Frankie) is unassuming but near invincible, a generous and beloved community leader but also a vampire. When he is killed (overkilled, even), his anointed successor Kagayama (Hayato Ichihara) also inherits this bloodlust, and inadvertently unsettles the careful balance that Genyo had created in his town. Ranged against Kagayama is a gun-toting priest, a ferocious fistfighter (Yayan Ruhian), a stinking kappa goblin, and a yakuza-hating man dressed in a frog costume (and described as “the modern monster, the world’s toughest terrorist”).
“Stay foolish!” is the advice which Genyo leaves for Kagayama. Or, as one of his underlings later puts it: “Subtract stupid from yakuza, and you’ve nothing left!” Accordingly, Yakuza Apocalypse remains deliriously daft until its final oater-style showdown. Even that manages somehow to be both understated and over-the-top at the same time, as the climactic battle between Kagayama and Ruhian’s character plays out in a simple, brutal exchange of blows (rather than the carefully choreographed confrontation that fans of Ruhian’s work in The Raid might naturally be expecting) – only for the titular apocalypse to come in absurd tokusatsu form. Miike delivers something all at once insane, inane and irresistible.