I discovered director Takashi Miike around the year 2002. I believe the very first of his films that I saw was Audition. A friend of mine brought it over to my house for a group viewing and told us nothing about it. What started as a mild drama quickly turned into one of the most eye-poppingly extreme and bizarre films that I had seen up until that point. That started a great hunt of more of his films that has mostly waned in the intervening years for me. I’ve probably seen at least a dozen of his films, but that’s not saying much for a guy that has made over 1o0. Somehow I had never seen the Dead or Alive trilogy despite it’s universal praise. I finally had the chance to sit down and dig in thanks to the recent Arrow Video set that collects all three films from the trilogy. I was revved up and ready for a night of hyper violence and any manner of nastiness.
Dead or Alive is about Ryu. He’s a gangster of Chinese/Japanese decent and he’s oh so cool. He and his gang of tough guys go around busting heads and snatching cash. Then you’ve got the leader of the Japanese Yakuza in the area and he doesn’t like Ryu much. He want’s Ryu dead. A renegade cop wants them all brought to sweet justice and so begins the battles between them.
I have to admit I was expecting this film to be super wild with lots of energy and insanity. The first five or ten minutes delivered this with lots of quick cuts, loud music, and graphic violence. Then the film settles down into a more moody vibe with lots of characters sitting and talking, discussing what to do next, or how to find someone, or discussions about life in general. Sure, we get some Miike shock sprinkled throughout the film but it isn’t until the last thirty minutes or so that the film comes to life again, dispensing with the mayhem I was begging for. The film ends with a showdown the result of which comes completely out of left field. It sets up what promises to be a very wild sequel. My problem with this film isn’t the shocking stuff, I expected that. My problem is that the film has a hellava lot of talking and not a lot of action, except at the film’s book ends. I understand that this is just the beginning of a trilogy and so perhaps the film was just setting up the chess pieces for what will be some fantastic sequels. I don’t know, i haven’t watched them yet. So what we have is a movie that features some pretty nasty scenes set amid lots of exposition and some really awesome violence at the beginning and end of the film. Dead or Alive is uneven but gives viewers a glimpse at what Miike would do later with films like Visitor Q and Ichi The Killer. I’ll have to check out the other two films in the series to give the trilogy a fair review but let’s just say I wasn’t blown away by the first installment.
Once again Arrow has done a great job with the film however. It was shot on film and the restoration is perfect. Everything looks crisp and pristine. There aren’t really any special features on this particular disc because it also includes the sequel but the second disc (which includes the third film) is stacked with features like interviews both new and archival, making-of featurettes, and a commentary track.