Dead or Alive
Dir: Takashi Miike
Star: Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, Hitoshi Ozawa
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 1999
Format: DVD R0

Local gangster Ryuichi (Takeuchi Riki) decides to usurp the local mafia and Yakuza warlords and take control of Shinjuku. With the help of his small and eclectic gang, he attempts to take over the local drug trade. As their power increases, they plan to kill the last remaining Chinese and Japanese mafia lords and only Police Detective Jojima (Aikawa Sho) stands between them and complete domination, and he has ideas of his own...

As one of the foremost directors in the wave of 'Extreme Asian cinema' Takashi Miike is hardly what you would describe as 'mainstream'. His material, is typically very stylish, visceral and visually extreme pushing the boundaries for conventional cinema and many of the stomachs of its audience. Such notorious titles as Audition, Fudoh and Ichi The Killer have elevated this director and his decidedly gruesome and bloodthirsty works to cult status and not just in Asia, as his 'original video' (Asian Straight to Video) productions have also been wowing Western audiences in recent years. Signature traits such as brutal and graphic murder, sexual depravation and perversion are the norm in his films, as are extreme bouts of violence. Bearing that in mind, Dead or Alive isn't going to appeal to everybody and to be honest Miike has developed a fan base pretty much all his own in terms of Asian cinema.

The film begins with a bewildering and quite mad set piece, featuring a gang of assassins picking off the local mob in various locales and in varying colourful ways. Including slashing the throat of one unfortunate as he sodomises a man at a urinal, subsequently decorating the wall with spraying blood in true Takashi Miike fashion, not to mention gratuitous bumping and grinding in a pole dancing clubs featuring plenty of female posterior waggling intercut with the various gruesome and graphic murder scenes.

Unfortunately, the pacing and editing let the film down terribly. The film plays out painfully slow in places, and after the initial frenetic barrage of violent visuals it comes to a veritable stop. The in dispersed action set pieces bear the Miike trademarks of focused, frenzied and extreme violence but do little to fulfill the audiences appetite for violence and are few and far between, barely raising the film from the pacing doldrums. Miike's later works are, much better but the flashes of his adventurous and avant-garde brilliance are very much in evidence, albeit in smaller doses. Compared to some of Takashi Miike's other works, i.e. Ichi The Killer or Audition this is a little disappointing and offers little to really make it stand out. Much of this film is scarily predictable but provides some well directed if a little disturbing set pieces. The Russian roulette scene and the rape / death in a bath of excrement particularly stand out, even if the latter is going a little far. The ending is surreal, inexplicable and quite frankly pointless, especially as there are a couple of sequels. The fascination of Takashi Miike with dismemberment and mutilation continues as yet more limbs are removed, and even an arm is self amputated.

If you are a fan of his later work, it is quite possible that you won't like this. It lacks the polish and some of the style of his later works, despite being undeniably Miike's work. This is certainly not his best work and it lacks his later experience and eye. As an extreme Asian cinema offering it is rather average on the whole and is carried by a couple of really meaty or darkly amusing set pieces. As far as his early works go, this isn't the worst and if you haven't seen any of Takashi Miike's work then this is almost tame by his standards, but if you want an entry level Miike movie to give you a taster of what you can expect from this director Full Metal Yakuza would be a better option. Disappointing, but an anarchic and mildly entertaining dark and twisted journey into Takashi Miike's jaded vision of an Asian underworld.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Widescreen Not a bad transfer but the darks bleed a little in places
Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 Good but a little flat
Features Star and Director filmographies
Takashi Miike interview
Chris Campion Film notes
Asia Extreme Trailer Reel (Obligatory set of Tartan Asia trailers)
Theatrical trailer
Verdict Not a bad disc but basically a stock presentation from Tartan Asia Extreme with the usual extras

Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home