Yakuza Apocalypse (2015) by Takashi Miike

Yakuza, vampires and martial arts collide in this wacky action comedy from Takeshi Miike. Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara) is a young gang member whose sensitive skin and inability to get a tattoo sets him apart from his fellow mobsters. He is however fiercely loyal to the boss (played by Lily Franky). When the boss, who happens to be a vampire, is killed, he manages to confer his powers on Kageyama with his dying breath. Kageyama then sets out to get revenge on the group who killed him, including traitor Aratetsu (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), mysterious English-speaking vampire hunter (Ryushin Tei), a martial artist (Yayan Ruhian), and a kappa (a mythical water creature). Kageyama is aided by Hogan (Denden), a bartender who knows the vampire secret, and a swelling army of new bloodsucking demons created by Kageyama. He also hopes to protect a young woman named Kyoko (Riko Narumi) who he has feelings for.

“Yakuza Apocalypse”, directed by Takashi Miike from a screenplay by Yoshitaka Yamaguchi, is a bizarre action-comedy that attempts to juggle several distinct elements. Whether you are a fan of martial arts films, violent exploitation cinema, surrealist humour, or modern takes on the vampire mythos, there is something for you to enjoy here, though the plot and editing can be a disjointed at times. It seems to jump from scene to scene in a frenetic way, often failing to set up key emotional threads such as Kageyama and Kyoko’s relationship, or background on who characters are or their motivations. For the most part you can ignore this, and simply enjoy the excellent direction, fight choreography and blend of childish comedy and gory action. However, the discrepancy in tone does a disservice to some elements that could have worked better either as a more straightforward fantasy yakuza film or out-and-out comedy. It often comes across as a collection of inventively violent moments, such as a man having his head twisted off, or inexplicable characters such as a frog-costumed pugilist (Masanori Mimoto) and a disturbing kappa, that seem to be from completely separate films.

The film’s comparison of vampires and yakuza, both bloodsucking parasites leeching off hard-working citizens is entertaining and the splicing of the two genres works well, allowing for the unholy union of these gruesome mythologies that have built up both around gangsters and nosferatu. When it works the satire is excellent, but all too often it misses the mark by attempting to balance the  relationship between Kageyama and Kyoko, or even Kageyama and the boss, with the absurdist metaphor of the main plot. While there are a lot of enjoyable moments, over the top comedy and brutal, rollicking action sequences, “Yakuza Apocalypse” seems wayward and unfocussed, with an interesting satire buried under an abundance of eccentric characters and non sequitur.

Rainbow Song (2006) by Naoto Kumazawa

Tomoya Kishida (Hayato Ichihara) is working as a runner for a production company, currently recording a pop music video. He is an awkward young man, constantly talked down to by his superiors and seemingly unable to do anything correctly, although he is likeable and keen to please. He sends a text to an old friend, Aoi Sato (Juri Ueno), who he has not seen in a number of years after she moved to America. Kishida is later upset to learn from a news report that Aoi has died in a plane crash. He attends the funeral with his boss Higuchi, meeting her parents and her sister Kana (Yu Aoi) who is blind. On the drive home, as Holst plays on the car radio, Kishida thinks back to his time with Aoi. The film is told in a chaptered style, beginning at the end and slowly working back around to the beginning. We see Kishida’s initial meeting with Aoi, when he was chasing another girl whom she worked with. Due to his persistence, they eventually form an uneasy friendship. Aoi, a budding director, decides to cast him in her first amateur film “The End of the World”. Their relationship develops slowly and it is clear that they both have feelings for one another, but Kishida lacks the confidence to tell her how he feels.

“Rainbow Song” is an interesting twist on the traditional relationship drama, since we already know from the beginning what happens to Aoi, and that Kishida and Aoi did not end up together. This is to the film’s advantage as it takes the focus off the usual will-they-won’t-they hook and allows for a much more nuanced and poignant examination of their relationship. While it largely steers clear of cliché, the film knows exactly how to pull at the audiences heartstrings, with a piano and string score by Hiroaki Yamashita that swells at all the right moments. The film also uses Holst’s “Venus” and “Jupiter” a lot, pieces that have significance later on as the soundtrack to Aoi’s film. The music is occasionally a little overpowering in moments that could have relied solely on the performances of the two lead actors.

Kishida is a believably nuanced character, shy, sincere, funny, unambitious, honest. Hayato Ichihara is perfectly cast, humorous and charming in his confused interactions with women, either hitting on someone who is already taken, or failing to notice Aoi’s developing feelings towards him. Juri Ueno also shines in her role as we see her transform from annoyance at his behaviour to acceptance and later affection at his quirks. The script offers many fantastic moments with the pair and they have a good chemistry together. Surprisingly, given the tragic events that open the film there are a few very funny scenes. One of the best moments is Kishida’s ill-fated experience at a speed dating event he is taken to by Aoi. Again, the brilliance of the premise is that even in the moments of romance or humour there is always the dark cloud of the inevitable tragedy lingering over everything.

The staging of “Rainbow Song” is noteworthy as it often drives the narrative forward. The positioning of characters in relation to each other and  their surroundings tells the story just as much as the dialogue and acting. The cinematography also provides some beautiful moments, such as when the two leads are standing by a puddle that reflects a rainbow. It is a simple shot, perhaps a little melodramatic, but the subtlety of the rest of the film allows it a pass on moments such as this. The film is perhaps a little drawn out, although the chaptering helps in breaking the story up into smaller, sometimes self-contained, stretches. The film was written by Shunji Iwai (under a pseudonym), along with Ami Sakurai and Miyuki Sato and both dialogue and plot are carefully constructed with a sense of realism to everything that happens.

Early on the theme of fate is established and the film itself plays on this through its plot structure. In knowing what will happen and witnessing the events with that knowledge, the audience is put in the unusual position of seeing things with the benefit of hindsight that the characters do not have. Kishida is criticised by his boss for not being able to alter the weather for the following day’s shoot, to which he replies that that would be impossible. His boss then retorts that he should at least look worried about it. This notion that there a things that will happen that we cannot change, that in fact we can only change our feelings about them is a powerful notion. Tragic events do occur and we can only look at them and decide how we feel about them. In the same way, Kishida cannot relive his time with Aoi, only look back on it with either love or regret. The second major message of the film is that of utilising your limited time wisely and taking advantage of every opportunity. There are several moments where Kishida has the chance to begin a serious relationship with Aoi, but always seems to back out. In contrast, when given the chance to move to America, Aoi takes it. They reflect each other in this regard, one hesitant and one bold enough to take their opportunities. The tragedy is that Kishida is doomed to miss his chance for true happiness, and that Aoi is doomed to take hers. The dualistic and contradictory nature of fate and free will is threaded throughout this story though never stated quite so boldly.

“Rainbow Song” is a subtle, nuanced look at relationships, that builds to a surprisingly devastating finale as we are taken through Kishida’s emotional recollections of the time he spent with Aoi and his series of missed chances. Worth a watch as a unique take on tragi-romantic drama.