December 15, 2015 – 5:22 am

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Thrill to the old-school and brutal hand-to-hand combat but it is the Godzilla-frog that gets your attention in Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse (2015). Stephen Tan reviews.

Even for filmmaker Takashi Miike, Yakuza Apocalypse (2015) is a strange kettle of fish. The diretor was a cult favourite with Audition (1999) and Ichi The Killer (2001) and here, he is closer to the filmmaker behind Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) and The Great Yokai War (2005).

It is still a strange mix of close-arm combat (by way of Bruce Lee); spaghetti western; vampires and, for good measure, a Godzilla-like creature. It’s jolly good fun, if you can stomach all these in one sitting.

Inspired by boss Kamiura who is concerned about the ordinary people, Kageyama decides to join the yakuza and becomes, more or less, Kamiura’s bodyguard. Unknown to Kageyama, Kamiura is also a vampire and, for his supply of blood, he keeps a group of homeless people in his “prison”. Two men - Mad Dog and a coffin-slinging stranger - show up to take down Kamiura - ostensibly because Kamiura has left the “organisation” and is now a “free agent”.

Mad Dog easily beats up Kageyama before breaking and tearing off Kamiura’s head. However, there’s still life in Kamiura’s head and it bites Kageyama’s neck, not only transferring his power to Kageyama but turning Kageyama into a vampire in the process.

The following, fairly lengthy segment in the film shows how Kageyama learns to deal with being a vampire. Initially, he dreams of eating noodles with the noodles turning into frog’s eggs. Faced with a thirst for blood, he gives in to his hunger and sucks the blood from anyone he encounters - like a young boy and his father, turning them into vampires.

As Mad Dog and the Stranger break up Kamiura’s outfit and endanger the people, Kageyama feels he has to make a stand - if for nothing else, to preserve whatever good Kamiura had done. In a brutal one-to-one using only brute force, Kageyama defeats Mad Dog. He also manages to defeat, sort of, a figther (in a frog costume) who is part of Mad Dog’s team. However, the defeat of the fighter “sets free” a Godzilla-size frog creature.

To be honest, Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse is a real rojak of a movie (a local mixed fruit and vegetable salad with a spicy sauce, with the emphasis on mixed). While Miike stages the action sequences with glee, surprisingly, Yakuza Apocalypse is not a splatter movie, though the death of Kamiura is crunchingly heartbreaking.

What really lifts the movie are the fight sequences between Kageyama and Mad Dog and the frog creature respectively. Mad Dog is played by Indonesian silat exponent Yayan Ruhian, who is one of the “stars” of The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berandal. He choreographed the fights in the former and appeared as a deadly assassin in the latter. Yayan puts hs agility to great use in Yakuza Apocalypse but it is the punch-for-punch knock out with Kageyama that takes the wind out of the viewers.

Kageyama’s fight with the frog killer is fun in the same way as watching Bruce Lee fights off the bad guys is fun. Both fighters have the moves and it’s always entertaining to see unarmed hand-to-hand combat that is well choreographed - it’s old school without any need for wires or CGI. It’s great especially when it works.

Yakuza Apocalypse is not without drama and a good part of the middle section looks at how Kageyama deals, on the one hand, with being a vampire and, on the other, walking in the footsteps of Kamiura and rallying the people/vampires around him. While vampire movies have their own folklore and “rules”, here, vampires like Kamiura and Kageyama are advised against sucking the blood of yazuka vampires as they will become undernourished in no time! Hence the need for fresh blood!

At the same time, Kageyama tries to hold on to his humanity, or whatever that’s left of it - especially when he stops himself from sucking the blood from Kyoko, a women he helped saved who sacrifices herself when she realises that her blood will make Kageyama stronger. But for Kageyama, it’s down to his own determination.

The early appearance of a black-coated stranger slinging a mini coffin might have raised some eyebrows but older viewers will associate the coffin with Django (or Coffin For A Gunfighter). And like that Franco Nero movie, the coffin too stocks an arsenal. But it is characters such a man (?) with a chicken/bird beak and the fighter in a frog costume/head that throws everyone into a loop.

And when Kageyama, after defeating the frog man, peels off the plaster from his navel and unleashes a Godzilla-like frog (?) - very much like the awakening of the Kraken in Clash Of The Titans - that’s when you wonder WTF! By then, of course, it’s too late, as the viewer would probably have fallen under the spell of the madcap movie.

“Goodbye to tediously boring Japanese films,” Miike wrote in a statement. “No one wanted this to happen, but I am making a rampage back to the basics!” And no one can fault Miike on that, and on the way Yakuza Apocaplyse cries out for a sequel.

Note: The Yakuza Apocalypse DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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