Friday, April 25, 2008

Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha (1999)

There have been dozens of Japanese Yakuza films released over the years and, frankly, the central story in Takashi Miike's Dead Or Alive isn't giving the educated viewer anything they haven't seen numerous times before. A gang leader (Riki Takeuchi) clashing with a reluctantly corrupt cop (Sho Aikawa), while both weave in and out through confrontations with the criminal element could describe any number of films. However, the pedestrian plot is turned on it's ear because of the director's bizarre sensibilities.

Any review of this film is required to mention the ten minute segments that bookend the story. Needless to say, this film packs more insanity in it's opening than most do in their entire running times. The rapid montage/music video that kicks things off is a mind-bender, full of sex and violence, and setting the tone for what is to come. It's loud, confusing, bloody, and literally starts like a punk rock song, with the two leads counting off "One two three four".

The film that follows might take some viewers by surprise as it's a very deliberately paced cop/criminal tale in the vein of Takeshi Kitano's films. However, it shouldn't surprise anyone that there are flashes of Miike's trademark madness, particularly in a scene where Jojima (Aikawa) meets up with a contact who is desperately trying to keep a dog under control (and aroused) while filming a bestiality video. There's also a revolting scene that involves a kiddie pool that is best not described.

However, it's the final ten minutes that will stick with most viewers. Curious folks can check it out on youtube, but I recommend (as Miike does in the extras) watching the film as a whole since the rules (and all logic) are thrown out the window as the two icons finally have their confrontation.

The DVD from Kino video is presented in it's original 1.85:1 ratio, but the image quality leaves a lot to be desired. Dark scenes lose a lot of detail, though the source materials may simply reflect the film's low budget. The extras are certainly a nice surprise and include a too-short interview with the director, trailers for Dead Or Alive, and a selection of trailers for various other Kino releases.

This isn't Miike's masterwork, but as an early example of him using his kinetic style to overcome a fairly pedestrian story it's essential. You might feel compelled to reach for the fast-forward button in the middle section, but stick with it. The ending defeinitely rewards a patient viewer.

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