Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive (1999) movie poster

(1999) dir. Takashi Miike
viewed: 02/05/08

For the uninitiated, Takashi Miike is one of the most prolific, bizarre, cult filmmakers out in the world today.  And Dead or Alive is one of his more notable films, a film popular enough to have two “sequels” made.  And I have to say, Dead or Alive, which I’d been meaning to see for ages, is one of his best films.  Typically violent and at times just plain surreal, Miike takes the yakuza gangster film to places it’s really never been to.  And it’s hard to imagine anyone else who could have pulled it off in this way.

The story is chaotic and there a dozens of characters to follow, so it’s no cake-walk even making it through the first 10 minutes.  In fact, the film opens with a heavy metal rage, a montage sequence where images appear just barely long enough to eke out their meaning.  But it’s not just sex, violence, drugs, and gluttony, it’s actually laying out the first part of the narrative in hyper-fast fashion.  I think I caught up about half-way through the movie.  One can only be grateful that this pacing isn’t sustained throughout.

Beyond the narrative, about Chinese triad wannabes trying to kick their way into the Japanese mafia and the cop that want to take them all down, the film is interspersed with truly bizarre moments of Surrealistic nonsense.  In one scene, in a shoot-out, one gangster batters his hand and deep fries it for no apparent reason just before he is shot.  The ending itself is a total break-away from reality, so over-the-top that it’s outright comedy.

And Miike is known for both his violence and perversion.  Bestiality is implied quite explicitly, and one female character dies in a kiddie swimming pool full of her own feces.  Miike’s world is gross and chaotic, violent and insane, and one in which just about anything can happen.  It’s one of the exciting things about his films.  You really don’t know what to expect.  And he’s not just a hack.  His films have interesting development and camerawork, they’re insanely interesting.

Personally, I recommend Dead or Alive, Audition (2000),or Ichi the Killer (2001) as his best work.  Audition is probably the most accessible of the three, while Ichi the Killer is probably the most extreme.  His other films are always interesting, but sometimes less effective in their out and out weirdness.  Anyhow, Miike is the man.

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