Just because something is singular doesn’t mean it’s good. “Yakuza Apocalypse” is a perfect example of this truism. Truly, there’s nothing like it out right now, in form or content, and thank God there isn’t. It’s an often exhausting exercise in cartoonish absurdity. At the same time, bless Takashi Miike, the prolific director of “Audition” and “Zebraman,” for letting loose like he does with “Apocalypse.” Sure, it’s overlong and lax in structure, but it’s more good than bad.
This is thanks to Miike’s considerable chops. Averaging about three movies a year since 1991, he’s cultivated a style that can turn the stupidest script to something enjoyable. The script in question starts out strong, but gets weaker as it goes. It opens to Kamiura (Lily Franky), a yakuza vampire mob boss, slaughtering a rival gang. This spectacle brings two vampire hunters, Killer Priest (Ryushin Tei) and Kyoken (Yayan Ruhian), to town, who make quick work of the seemingly immortal killer. Before he dies, he sires his right-hand man Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), who goes so mad with power that he turns the whole village into vampires.
Thought it’s the crux of the movie, vampires are a smaller portion of it. A diverse of mythical Japense creatures and a man in a frog suit fill up the rest. Their function in the story, however, is tenuous. There are a lot of characters to consider here, and each just shows up with no real importance. The most aggregious case of this is Aratetsu (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), a bumbling yakuza thug. It’s clear from his introduction that he’s generally perplexed and ineffectual. By the end, however, he ends up taking out someone far above his pedigree. It’s inexplicable and feels like the biggest cop-out of the movie.
Strangely, it’s when “Yakuza Apocalypse” is not trying to be an action movie that it succeeds. It’s a disparate blend of comedy, absurdism, horror, and cartoon that never really gels. Yet, it devotes the most time to its weakest aspect: fight scenes. They’re not bad. They’re good. But in comparison to the ridiculousness of the rest of the movie, they feel standard, even boring. The highlight of the movie is seeing how insane it gets.
That’s both good and bad. It’s good because it’s an unpredictable experience. It’s bad because you can only have that experience once. “Yakuza Apocalypse” is a one-and-done movie that, speaking from experience, only gets worse on rewatches, because its biggest flaws are even more glaring. The weakest characters survive without explanation and the editing plays loose with any kind of resolution. To be fair, some things in the movie can’t be resolved. But some things can, and they rarely are. Before you consider watching, ask yourself this: am I willing to wade through crap just to be surprised? For me, it’s only worth it once.