Dead or Alive

5 out of 5

Directed by: Takashi Miike

I can hem and haw over whether this deserves a four or five – the downplayed, loose plot is what puts me on the fence – but there’s something I come back to: with the recent Arrow re-release of the film on bluray , I watched it twice back to back, the second time with Tim Mes’ commentary, and I realized I could easily (keyword) watch it again.  If there’s something that’s held true for the overwhelming majority of my director Takashi Miike viewings, it’s that: that visual enrapture, transfixed to the screen by seemingly the simplest scene setups or framing, transported by the minimal, slightly surreal dialogue.  And DOA boils many of the juxtapositions found in Miike’s works – mainly contemplation on identity – down to their bare essentials, interestingly represented by the V-Cinema showdown of two of its biggest names: Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi.  It’s also both tame and insane; touching and revolting; goofy and… well, no, it’s never quite serious so much as committed to its yakuza genre, but the occasional yuks Miike slips in there set things a’teeter-totter similar to those other comparisons.  So I keep coming back to how effective it is, both as a representation of Takashi’s style as well as a visual spectacle, and then I also think back to when I first watched this, and my girlfriend at the time walked in on a scene where a prostitute speaks with her mouth full (related to what you’re thinking, but not quite) and then promptly walked out, despite my protestations about Miike’s repute.  I was frustrated that I’d lost the chance to expose her to one of my favorite directors, but upon later reflection I realized: there’s no good time to walk in on a Miike movie, or Dead of Alive.  You might catch a scene like the above, or perhaps one of the many still, slow single shots in the film’s middle, or one of the few frenetic shootouts, and in each case, you’d make your assumptions… and then have them tested by the first scene that takes a wildly different tone.  It doesn’t quite make sense; it doesn’t quite seem thought out.  But if you sit down and get exposed to the (as Tom Mes points out) fourth-wall breaking Sho / Riki countdown that kicks us off and leads into the “here’s all the plot you need to know” non-stop smash cut intro, your brain gets wiped of expectations and assumptions and you’re either in it or you’re not.

I, obviously, am in it, for five stars.

A street thug (Riki) and his associates begin taking down the head honchos of the Triads and Yakuza.  Cop Jojima (Sho) is there to stop him.  This plot is mostly perfunctory to service the V-Cinema glory of the star showdown – immortalized in a still ridiculously hilarious final scene – while Miike works in layers and layers of visual / storyline themes regarding family, and the value of life, as is his wont.

The enema scene is still disgusting, but even it has its place in this design.

A classic, and a distillation of the many great things the director brings to the screen.

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