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Yakuza Apocalypse: Splatter and silliness

Japanese cult director Takashi Miike unleashes one of his wackiest creations.



An organized crime family maintain an underground cell where they keep their enemies shackled to the floor and make them learn how to knit. A woman thinks she hears a dripping sound somewhere in the distance, only to realize that her brain is melting; she shakes the liquid out of her ears as if it were seawater. A world-traveling vampire hunter promises his colleagues that a terrifying monster will arrive to aid them in their mission; the "monster" turns out to be a guy in a fuzzy frog costume. These are some of the memorable moments in Yakuza Apocalypse, a Japanese non sequitur fest directed by the inimitable Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, 13 Assassins). Apocalypse finds the 55-year-old filmmaker at his silliest, which is saying a lot, as he's responsible for some of the silliest movies ever made.

Kagayama, a quiet young man living in a small industrial town, has no ambition but to work for the local crime boss. He gets accepted into the fold, but soon afterward his beloved leader gets killed by a pair of mysterious strangers—one of them a nebbishy Thai immigrant, the other a Japanese man who dresses like a 17th-century English Puritan. Before the boss dies, though, he bites Kagayama on the neck, revealing himself to have been a vampire all along. Now the hero must learn how to survive on human blood while fending off attacks from both a rival yakuza clan and the people who killed his boss.

Miike and screenwriter Yoshitaka Yamaguchi divide the narrative between these different characters. Often the meandering scenes feel like pretexts for some oddball character or joke, as when the vampire hunters encounter a kappa spirit—a part-human, part-turtle figure from Japanese mythology—that wants to join them. But whereas Miike's other non sequitur fests (The Happiness of the Katakuris, Detective Story) offset the manic invention with moments of disarming sincerity, Yakuza Apocalypse just barrels from one wacky set piece to another. Kagayama, who should be the film's emotional center, comes off as a cipher, and the more interesting characters aren't onscreen long enough to register as anything more than concepts. Regardless, the movie contains enough flashes of inspiration to remind viewers why Miike became a cult hero in the first place.  v

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