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Dead Or Alive
Riki Takeuchi (best known for his amazing mullet in Miike's earlier Fudoh - The New Generation) plays Ryuichi, a Ronin-like criminal leading a small gang of criminals who have no allegiance to and social structures, be they law enforcement agencies or the local Yakuza. Anyway, Ryuichi and his gang decide to take it to the next level and take over the Shinjuku drug trade from Taiwan.
As they go about eliminating the rest of the Chinese and Japanese mafia kingpins, an all too human Detective named Jojima (Sho Aikawa of Pulsa/Kairo and Miike's earlier and somber Yakuza drama Rainy Dog) is making ends meet with some illegal activities of his own in order to fund his terminally ill daughters operation. When Jojima and Ryuichi's respective paths cross, all Hell breaks loose as they try to outsmart and outfight each other.
This film is relentless. The first ten minutes will melt your eyeballs and you'll find yourself loving every second of it. Miike has taken the traditional Yakuza film of the past and totally thrown the conventions established by that genre out the window. While he would later go on to top this film with its two sequels and his infamous Ichi The Killer, this film remains a notable starting point in his tendency to dissect the standards of the Yakuza film that were established before he took his various stabs at the genre.
While the film noticeably slows down in pace during the middle chapter, it's still able to remain an intense and enthralling work. Miike's camera draws you into places you may not want to go, but it's almost like you have no choice. Violent and shocking with plenty to be offended by, Dead Or Alive is a frantic ride through an ugly and insane criminal underground culture. Takeuchi is a total bad ass in this film and fits the role perfectly, while Aikawa is at times both sympathetic and deplorable as he chases the criminals down.
But Dead Or Alive isn't just a bleak shoot'em up, there are moments of kindness and sensitivity that poke you in the eye and the film has definitely got its tongue placed firmly in cheek. Aikawa and Takeuchi both ham it up for the camera more than a few times during the duration and the ending, well.... If you haven't seen the movie yet I'm not going to spoil it but I guarantee you will not see it coming. On top of that, the film deals with one of the more common recurring themes in Miike's ever expanding filmography, and that's loyalty and brotherhood among criminals. While plenty of other filmmakers have tackled these themes with varying degrees of maturity and success, here, like so many of Miike's other projects, he takes things to such an extreme that it does wander into new territory and for that it deserves some credit. While the picture was made on a modest budget and doesn't approach the epic scope of more recent Miike films like Izo or last year's Thirteen Assassins, every penny of the production's funds are evident up there on the screen, and the budgetary shortcomings that do come up are more than compensated for not just with the screwball of a script and the larger than life performances but by the dizzying camera work and sheer ballsiness of the movie itself. The film was previously released on home video in both R-rated and unrated versions. The version included on this new DVD is the unrated cut of the film.The DVD:
Dead Or Alive arrives on DVD in a 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that preserves the film's original aspect ratio. While it looks as good as it ever has on home video, there are still some issues here, most of which stem back to the source material which suffers from inconsistent and frequently weak black levels. Color reproduction sometimes looks over saturated though this is only an occasional problem. There are no issues with print damage or compression artifacts to note, but realistically speaking the film doesn't look amazing here, and it never really has.The Audio:
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track offers up the film in its native Japanese language track and offers subtitles in English only. There are no problems to report here, the levels are well balanced and the dialogue clean and clear. The score sounds good as do the effects while the subtitles are easy to read and free of any obvious typos.
The best of the extras on this disc is a quick seven minute interview with Miike who talks about his V-cinema/low budget roots before discussing the performances, his cast, and the movie's themes. Aside from that, there's a trailer here for the feature and trailers for its two sequels, some menus, and chapter stops.
Dead Or Alive set the bar pretty high for Miike when it hit, and while he would go on to raise that bar several notches after this movie was made, it remains a high point in his career and an interesting look at things to come. Discotek/Eastern Star have done okay with this release, and while the transfer doesn't offer much of an improvement, the film never looked that great to begin with. Extras are slim, but at least there's a bit of supplemental content here to dig through. Rent it first if you haven't seen it before, because it's very definitely not a movie for all tastes but those who already appreciate Miike's unique take on the Yakuza film can consider this one recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.