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Dead Or Alive (JAPAN 1999)

aka Dead Or Alive: Hanzaisha

Director : Takashi Miike
Producer : Makoto Okada, Katsumi Ono
Screenplay : Ichiro Ryu
Cast : Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, Hitoshi Ozawa, Shingo Tsurumi, Kaoru Sugita

Ryuichi is a ruthless young gangster who craves power so much that he will do almost anything to get it. He has no loyalties to anyone except himself and his younger brother Toji who has returned to Shinjuku after studying in the U.S. Ryuichi, Toji and their small gang plan to take control of the underworld, taking the power from the Japanese and Chinese gangs who currently dominate it. On their trail is a lone cop – Detective Jojima – a troubled man who is trying to raise cash to give his daughter a life-saving operation.

by Martin Cleary

Firstly, Dead or Alive is directed by Takashi Miike. If you’ve seen any of his other films then you know that it means that this film is fairly extreme: the violence is raw and nasty, there’s a fair amount of perverse sex, and the film is rough in a way that it almost batters the viewer about as it goes. If you like this sort of film, then no-one seems to do it better than Takashi Miike!

The opening of the film is a ten-minute, quickly-edited (to some loud tunes!) series of assassinations. One of the film’s opening images is of a prostitute falling off of a rooftop with a bag of cocaine in her hands. Its nasty, it’s in your face – and if you don’t like this opening scene then you definitely won’t like what follows. Put it this way, director Miike is a sick man!

The plot of Dead or Alive is not too far from your standard gangster / cop thriller. You sort of know where it’s going from the beginning. Ryuichi is the young gangster who is trying to overthrow the current crime-bosses. He’s a cool cat, dressed in leather coat and usually wearing sunglasses, favouring big guns like shot-guns. Detective Jojima is the cop who finds his way onto Ryuichi’s trail, he’s a lot more mature and reserved and worn down by both his job and home life. So far, so average. What makes Dead Or Alive so different is it’s unexpectedness. With Takashi Miike’s films the fun isn’t usually in the plot or the outcome, as much as the journey getting there. The film dives into its murky underworld as the two central characters visit with all sorts of hoodlums and low-lifes. Powerful images come thick and fast, and usually turn your stomach: there’s the sick (a dog being ‘pleasured’, hookers being ‘cleaned out’), the bizarre (deep fried hand anyone?), the super-cool (Chinese sword versus shotgun) and just the down-right psychotic which run through the whole film. The real clever trick to all of this twisted imagery and character building is that Miike manages to tie it up with some strong themes concerning different groups in society – family, friends, cultures and even Darwin’s theory that ‘only the strong survive’. For a film that almost tries to alienate the viewer purposely, Dead Or Alive has a powerful emotional undercurrent hidden just below the

The cast of the film is excellent throughout. Riki Takeuchi’s flashy performance as Ryuichi is matched by Sho Aikawa’s restrained turn. Although these are obviously the largest characters of the film, they manage to not overshadow the supporting cast and instead play against them so well that even the smallest role seems to be significant. If you’ve heard of this film but not yet seen it, the chances are that you’ve heard it has a good ending. Well, this film has an ending that is classic Miike. Lets just leave it at that – It’s mental.

Dead Or Alive is well worth a view for people with strong stomachs. When you see how the film ends the first thing you want to do is watch it again, so I’d say it makes for repeated viewings. This is also a good introduction to Takashi Miike’s films if you’ve yet to get stuck into the man’s back catalogue of more than fifty films (!). While it’s not an all time classic, this is one of those films that you’ll probably either love or hate. I loved it!

Plot : 3/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 4/5
Overall : 4/5

Notable Scenes
- The non-stop mad ten minute opening sequence including the
biggest line of cocaine ever!
- The photo session with a dog (don’t ask!)
- The Robbery
- The Chinese and Japanese gangs meet
- Deep fried hand
- The finale. It’s mad

Buy movie at YesAsia – Dead or Alive

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