Thursday, 5 January 2017

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Yakuza Apocalypse

Directed by: Takashi Miike

Produced by: Yoshinori Chiba
Shin'ichiro Masuda
Shinjiro Nishimura
Misako Saka

Screenplay by: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi

Starring: Hayato Ichihara
Yayan Ruhian
Riko Narumi
Lily Franky
Reiko Takashima

Music by: Koji Endo

Cinematography by: Hajime Kanda

Editing by: Kenji Yamashita

Studio(s): Django Film
Happinet Corporation
OLM, Inc.

Distributed by: Nikkatsu

Release date(s): May 21, 2015 (Cannes Film Festival)
June 20, 2015 (Japan)
October 9, 2015 (United States)
January 6, 2016 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 115 minutes

Country: Japan

Language(s): Japanese

Production budget: N/A

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $12, 756

Today's film up for review is Yakuza Apocalypse, one of the most recent directorial outings from Japanese legend Takashi Miike. For those of you who don't know, Miike-san is one of my favourite directors and for my money the most audacious of filmmakers over the past twenty-five years. No contemporary artist in film (yes, I'm looking at you, Tarantino...) has dared to challenge and push the boundaries of cinema quite like Miike. Be it his yakuza flicks like the Black Society trilogy (his best yakuza film is unquestionably Agitator, an epic gangster saga to match any classic in the genre), his surreal and ultraviolent endeavours (Audition is for me the most frightening film I've ever seen and among my top ten greatest films of all-time), family-oriented features such as Zebraman, or his most recent successes with the jidaigeki samurai films 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai, Miike (though he often downplays his personal flavours to a workman-like approach, which always reminds this reviewer of Michael Curtiz), over what is now nearly a hundred productions since he began directing in 1991, has thoroughly established himself with a reputation that precedes him. So, anyway, hoopla context out of the way, let's get down to Yakuza Apocalypse: set in the underworld run by the Japanese yakuza, Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) is a loyal man who suffers the ridicule of his fellow gang members, due to his skin condition making him unable to get tattooed, which of course are used symbolically by the yakuza organisations within Japan. However, assassins become aware of the location of his boss Kamiura's (Lily Franky), and unhappy with his activities offer him an ultimatum to rejoin the international syndicate he left or to be knocked off. I won't go too far into plot, but put it this way, unbeknownst to the assassins and his own underlings, Kamiura is a battle-hardened vampire, and, well, things go the way the do in a Miike film. Shall we dance?

To start off with the good about the film, I have to say that it is totally bonkers and features all the usual things you might come to expect from a Miike film, but also there is a lot more to it than simple irreverent indulgence, and I think while of course you can put a lot of that down to Miike, some of the ideas in the screenplay from Yoshitaka Yamaguchi really take you aback. There are some moments of genuine originality that have you completely hooked, and others which are just so absolutely ridiculous that not only is it beggar's belief but they are gut-bustingly funny (I direct you to Exhibit A, namely the World's Toughest Terrorist...). Also, it is for the most-part a well-executed hybrid action movie, in that yes we have yakuza power struggles, yes we have vampires running amuck, yes we have the apocalypse and all these different things going on in a glorious bay of blood, but it also a martial-arts film. I can't for the life of me tell you who done the choreography on the movie, but among the assortment of characters is Kyoken, played by Yahan Ruhian, the Indonesian martial artist and actor, most famous for playing Mad Dog in Gareth Evans' The Raid, and as such we have four or five fight scenes featuring some terrific martial-arts choreography with Ruhian at the centre of them and a high standard of stunt work throughout. Speaking of performance, there's a very good one at the heart of it by Hayato Ichihara. Over the course of the film, the character of Kageyama goes through a transformation, and it displays intelligence on Ichihara's part that it isn't just a sudden change, but that of a gradual one, subtly changing alongside Kageyama's personality, whilst still retaining the fundamental characteristics which make him up. I can't say I've seen Ichihara in anything before this, but I'll be interested to see where he goes in the future as an actor, especially considering he's featured in Miike's upcoming adaptation of the Blade Of The Immortal manga. The final thing I'd like to flag up is the overall look of the film. Even though it's obviously a picture with a relatively modest budget, they work around that with a visually interesting mise-en-scene, with cinematographer Hajime Kanda highlighting all of it's qualities and Kenji Yamashita's editing covering up most of the patches whilst integrating appropriately all the different elements, with the literal and visual effects coming together in a stylistically unique fashion. To conclude on the positives, this is the kind of film that only a master like Miike-san could manage to pull off. You almost have to admire it for sheer boldness' sake, but the fact is is that even so it could have been a real mess. Instead, what we have is a highly entertaining, at times outrageously funny and rather fascinating film.

Now, for all that I did like about it, I do have to say that there are certain things that grated on me about it that need flagging up. For all the qualities that are to be found in Yamaguchi's script, there are also a number of problems. It may be original in terms of ideas, but as far as it's rudiments and fundamentals go the story itself is a fairly familiar and easy story. As such, while all this stuff is happening around the characters, they themselves are stock, ones that we have seen before in any number of different movies before. The trajectory of the story is cliched, and frankly doesn't offer enough new to the table to elevate it above the slew of great works that we see come out every year. As such, all the originality, while fun, serves as window dressing to what is something not without flaws. The final thing to say is that because of this the film doesn't have enough to sustain a near two-hour running time. If they had have shaved off fifteen to twenty minutes and come in at around a hundred minutes this could have been a masterpiece, but unfortunately goes on a bit and threatens to overstay it's welcome.

That being said, I am revising my original opinion on the film. I knew that it was very good, but in retrospect, it is a great film. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It might not be as fulfilling from an all-round standpoint as some Miike's other films (I'm thinking in particular of the Jodorowsky-inflected brilliance of Gozu), but Yakuza Apocalypse is a widely entertaining action-fantasy hybrid that, faults and all, delivers in spades what many others fail to.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzing (I'm turning into Charlie Sheen minus all the drugs, only I've the blood of a bull in my veins, baby!)

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