Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dead or Alive (1999)

Director: Takashi Miike

Notable Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, Hitoshi Ozawa, Shingo Tsurumi, Kaoru Sugita, Dankan, Hirotaro Honda, Michisuke Kashiwaya, Ren Osugi

After releasing the wonderful Blu Ray set of Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy, Arrow Video follows it up with an equally exciting (for fans at least) set of Miike’s Dead or Alive trilogy. Unlike the previous set, this one is not going to be as gloriously praised for its artistic merit, but it might be a set that is just as entertaining and vibrant as one would expect from the director. The first film, titled Dead or Alive like one would assume, is a film that does somewhat fit in the same category as the Black Society Trilogy  when it comes to its themes at least. It’s not nearly as robust in its dramatic heft or razor sharp writing though and occasionally comes off as a bit muddy, particularly when one looks at the odd way it starts and finishes. However, with powerhouse actors in the two lead roles and Miike behind the camera, you know you are in for something a bit off the wall and uniquely unbalanced and for those prepared it’s another wild trip into the world of outcast cops and gangsters that any Miike fan will want to add to their collection.

Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) is doing his best to take his small band of followers against the much more powerful yakuza in the Shinjuku quarter. However, despite some valiant efforts on his part, his plan to overtake the territory is being thwarted by a Japanese cop Jojima (Show Aikawa) who is looking to get his own way. This sets both men on a course to collide in perhaps one of the most Takashi Miike manners possible.

As mentioned, Dead or Alive features a lot of the tones and focuses that made his work on the Black Society Trilogy so effective. It features a series of outcast characters, a plot involving Chinese and Japanese friction in the underworld, and is generally much more serious in how it’s playing with its more abrasive elements which seem to be nonchalantly scattered into the film. Outside of the first five minutes and the last five minutes, which will be looked at next, Dead or Alive really drives home a lot of these themes. It features two leads who, despite their own strange quirks and approaches as characters, are caught as a gray area of trying to do good things in a world that’s increasingly against them succeeding at removing themselves from the horrors of the criminal underworld. Both characters are relatable to the audience as they focus on building better lives for their families (Ryuichi for his smart and educated younger brother and Jojima with his wife and sick daughter) who are willing to sacrifice anything to achieve that goal to make things better for them. It makes for two very effective characters that carry the film even when the twisting narrative becomes muddled as it winds its way to a point where their intentions will collide. This leads the film down all kinds of weird paths, in classic Miike style, that features a few uncomfortable scenes, but the ultimate tone and goal works for the film. Dead or Alive is not quite up to par in the tight writing or heartbreaking resolves that made the Black Society Trilogy so good, but it stands on its own in admirable ways.

Honor among thieves.
There is the strange maneuver on Miike’s part to start and end Dead or Alive in some off beat ways. The first five minutes features a bombardment of visuals, laced with shredding guitars, and a very kinetic tone that’s edited to give it a frantic surrealism. It’s like an early 90s yakuza themed heavy metal music video as a collage met with some of the strange humor and tones of a Miike film. It sets up the film to be this kind of in your face experience and the rest of it does not quite hit that kind of scope, despite moments of oddity. It’s a tonal set up that doesn’t quite pay off. Then, of course, there is the last five minutes of the film. As mentioned, the meat and potatoes of Dead or Alive features strange, but realistic characters and occurrences that set up the ultimate showdown between the two leads. The showdown that occurs, after being set up with some shockingly effective twists, gets increasingly weirder as it goes. At first, it’s the usual Miike style of ultra-violence that gets things going, but by the end of this duel it reaches a kind of Looney Tunes inspired ludicrousness that is almost baffling. The final moment of the film will certainly leave its audience, those unprepared at least, scratching their heads.

"I've got my sights on you."
All in all, Dead or Alive is a unique viewing experience that shows how Miike was getting more daring with his films even when they were part of the usual cops n’ yakuza style that kicked off his career. If only the writing was tightened and some of the energy from the opening and closing evened out, this might have been on of the better films of his career. As is though, it’s a strong contender in the second tier of his filmography that features some iconic moments and some very strong, scene-stealing performances. Miike fans will adore this Arrow Blu Ray (which features a couple of solid features listed below) and for those cinephiles who love the strange will want to check this out. 


  • High Definition digital transfers of all three films
  • Original uncompressed stereo audio
  • Optional English subtitles for all three films
  • New interview with actor Riki Takeuchi
  • New interview with actor Sho Aikawa
  • New interview with producer and screenwriter Toshiki Kimura
  • New audio commentary for Dead or Alive by Miike biographer Tom Mes
  • Archive interviews with cast and crew
  • Archive making-of featurettes for DOA2: Birds and DOA: Final
  • Original theatrical trailers for all three films
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Orlando Arocena
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Kat Ellinger

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

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