An antidote to “Final”‘s sleepy pace and drab cinematography is Dead or Alive, a visual smelling salt that’s sure to jolt even the most jaded action fans to attention. However, delicate or easily disturbed filmgoers should consider skipping this latest Japanese shock-fest from director Takashi Miike. His previous film, the unbearable, agonizing horror outing “Audition,” boasted the most unpredictable chills since “Psycho” and had unprepared SIFF audiences running for the exits last year, well before its final reel had concluded.
This time around, Miike is tossing the gore into our faces right from the get-go, during an opening sequence that begins with gyrating go-go dancers and ends as a gluttonous diner gets his predigested noodles blown out the chest during a wild restaurant shootout. “Dead or Alive” soon morphs into a more run-of-the-mill cops versus yakuza gangsters crime film, as Chinese Mafia leader Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) is pursued by police detective Jojima (Sho Aikawa). Jojima is a decent man, and an effective law enforcer, but his integrity is challenged by the need to raise money for his ailing daughter’s medical treatment. He’s also not past using the sleaziest, most deplorable porno hucksters as informers, if such means justify the greater good. Meanwhile, his nemesis Ryuchi struggles with a kid brother fresh from completing college overseas, who is mortified to find that his education was paid for with dirty money. Refusing to get involved, Michael Corleone-style, in the robberies and drug cartels that his brother masterminds, this white knight is soon at odds with his evil sibling. Will the brothers find a middle ground? Will Jojima compromise his standards and go on the take? Will justice prevail over evil? Without revealing any major plot points, let’s simply say that the results aren’t pretty.
There are surreal, David Lynchian scenes of the most depraved evil, as when a paunch-bellied, elderly crime lord drowns a tub-immersed woman by casually pushing her head beneath the putrid, darkened water of a wading pool. All the while, he relaxes in robe and reclining chair like some decadent vacationer enjoying the rays of a tropical beach. At other times, Takashi throws humor into the mix, diffusing some of his all-too-potent darkness. In contrast, there are gentle, melancholy moments, as when Jojima weeps after a car bombing wreaks havoc on some innocent passengers. Aikawa is a stoic figure of a man, but he also cries with the best of them.
Like “Audition,” which boasted a female slasher that made Glenn Close’s “Fatal Attraction” psycho look like Mary Poppins, “Dead or Alive” catches us off balance with a rather low-key, somber middle section before throwing in everything but the kitchen sink during a riotous grande finale. This is Takashi’s trademark, bathing us in the familiar and mundane before pulling out the rug from beneath us. The resulting effect is akin to relaxing in a warm bath, only to be jolted into panic by a 9.0 earthquake. Unlike his previous film, however, Takashi throws in enough shocks early on that we’re more guarded this time around. Even though the ending certainly kicks butt, we’re bracing ourselves for the impact far in advance.
Get the whole story in the next part of VIOLENT KIDS! TERRORISTS! DELUSIONAL INMATES! TARANTINO!