Somewhere near the climax of Takashi Miike’s unclassifiable new action flick Yakuza Apocalypse — a film arguably made up entirely of climaxes of differing intensity — a mysterious combatant in a ratty fleece frog suit reveals his final form. Battle with a roving squadron of vampire gangsters has taken quite a toll on him, and so he levels up by removing the mascot costume to unveil an enviable physique of rippling muscles, though the fleecy frog head has now been replaced by a rubber frog mask. Also, the frog can make people die with a magic death stare. Also, there’s an amphibious folktale monster called a kappa in the mix. Even if you’ve seen all the footage leading up to this scene, it does not make much sense.
Which is to say that Yakuza Apocalypse is not for everyone, but is very, very much for some people. Nobody could possibly blame viewers that bristle at Miike’s (admittedly herky-jerky) tonal shifts. Abruptly and without warning, Miike will hurtle from blood-soaked yakuza throwback mayhem into groaningly broad slapstick comedy or vintage J-horror weirdness. The constant vacillations result in an incoherence in terms of overall tone, which matches the incoherence of the story with an appropriately demented anti-logic. Miike introduces and disposes of characters with deliriously reckless abandon — after long enough, the haste with which newly introduced characters get murdered becomes a running joke unto itself. Miike’s clearly not especially worried about disorienting his audiences. For all we know, that’s his way of weeding out the squares.
Miike’s already amassed a substantial cult following on the strength of films like the blood-curdling psychothriller Audition and his martial arts exercise Crows. One gets the impression that he’s come to Yakuza Apocalypse glad-handing to his constituents, giving the diehards at midnight showings something to howl about. The style of this film, however, is decidedly unlike either of those two. Completely lacking the careful directorial discipline of Audition and even the technical proficiency in combat of Crows, Yakuza Apocalypse goes instead for a more-is-more ethic. Miike piles on more than enough visual flourishes to nauseate anybody who didn’t have a blast during countryman Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play In Hell? Those who did find pleasure in the unhinged, hyperactively propulsive filmmaking of that film will no doubt have a ball with Miike’s loony genre mashups and relentless formal antics.
Yakuza Apocalypse is Miike’s film through and through, but attention must also be paid to the wonderful Lily Franky, so retro-stylish as the vampire gangster that leads the pack. Miike first introduces him fighting his way through a crowd of challengers with no difficulty, but it’s only moments later, when Franky looks up from munching on his girlfriend’s neck and cracks a smile from behind his pitch-black sunglasses, that he epitomizes cool. Many of the other performers aren’t able to do too much acting from beneath cumbersome costumes, or cumbersome dialogue. Again, this is all part of Miike’s point, but it may not be a point many viewers are interested in hearing out.
Following the film’s screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, Miike took the stage to announce that his next film will feature humans who “breed with insects and then go to Mars and fight cockroaches.” So it may be a little while until fans of the hushed control Miike displayed with the elegant wuxia epic Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai get to see more self-consciously masterly work from the director. But for now, Miike’s having lots of fun splashing spastically in the shallow end of the pool, and to be able to join him there can only feel like a privilege.