Prolific director, he has over one hundred directors credits on IMDB, Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive trilogy is getting an Arrow release. Miike has made some brilliant films, such as the classic horror Audition, but a career as busy as his will always contain rubbish. Is the Dead or Alive trilogy good enough to be counted amongst his best?
Dead or Alive blasts on the screen with a frenetic montage full of kinetic energy as gangland criminals are bumped off in an excessive fashion, one having his throat slit during anal intercourse in a public toilet and the other blasted by a shotgun which sends a stream of noodles from his eviscerated stomach and straight at the screen. It’s a slap in the face as the film grabs you and shouts at you. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t continue in the same manner. Ryuuichi (Riki Takeuchi) is the head of the small gang who perpetrated the killings and Detective Jojima (Shô Aikawa) is the policeman trying to catch him. You’ve seen this kind of plot before and the film does come with some clichés, the detective with a suffering family life, the gangster with an innocent younger brother, the police partner whose fate is sealed as soon as you see he is a loving father. However, there are streaks of Miike in Dead or Alive such as the pornographer who specialises in canine on human action or a character who is drowned in a children’s paddling pool filled with human excrement. You don’t get that with Michael Mann. The film’s got an anime sensibility to it with the over the top action and it’s self-aware at points but not enough to really make a point of it.
Dead or Alive 2: Birds sees Miike directing Takeuchi and Aikawa again, this time as two hitmen whose paths cross during a job. They realise that they were childhood friends and take a trip back to the island that they lived on in an orphanage. What’s surprising about this second film is just how funny it is. Its humour is absurd and once again has an anime influence and the film has several genuinely laugh out loud moments which culminates in a completely inappropriate play for a group of children. This happens about forty-five minutes in and then the film loses its way. It lacks much of a plot and after this point, it feels like the film struggles to know what to do with itself.
Dead or Alive 3: Final sees Takeuchi and Aikawa, the only links to allow the films to call themselves a trilogy, in a post-apocalyptic future with Takeuchi as a police officer fighting rebels fighting against a regime that forces people to take a pill to stop them reproducing. Aikawa is a cyborg who becomes wrapped up in the rebel force. This is easily the weakest of the trilogy. It lacks the energy or fun that the previous two contain. Instead, it feels like a struggling low-budget sci-fi film with the ropey effects to go with it. It misses out on saying anything about its subject matter though the ending does grasp at a through line to the trilogy, saying that Takeuchi and Aikawa are always destined to meet each other throughout time.
Miike is a frustrating director and the Dead or Alive trilogy proves it. Sporadically fun and entertaining, the films never reach the heights that Miike is capable of and you probably won’t be re-watching them regularly.
DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: TAKASHI MIIKE / SCREENPLAY: ICHIRO RYU, MASA NAKAMURA, HITOSHI ISHIKAWA, YOSHINOBU KAMO / STARRING: RIKI TAKEUCHI, SHOW AIKAWA, RENJI ISHIBASHI / RELEASE DATE: 27TH MARCH