With over one hundred directorial credits, Takashi Miike’s career could be considered a monster success based on his productivity alone, but the prolific filmmaker has also managed to create a handful of the most challenging and important movies of the past twenty years.
His best works showcase an ability to shift from extreme ultraviolence to heartstring-tugging tenderness, while peppering the narratives with completely outlandish and absurd situations. Though Miike’s films do not conform to any particular style in the way that, say, David Lynch’s films are Lynchian or Quentin Tarantino’s films are Tarantino-esque, Miike’s films could only have been made by Miike, and if there’s such a thing as a Miike style, it’s his flippant disregard for “the rules” in a completely uncontrived way. This anarchic disregard is, perhaps, best exemplified in the batshit ending to his 1999 masterpiece Dead or Alive, which gets a welcome re-release next week as part of a completely tricked-out Blu-Ray box set from Arrow Video.
Dead or Alive was produced the same year as Miike’s Audition, the film that really put him on the map for US audiences, which is, in my humble opinion, one of the top 10 horror films of all time and another astounding rulebreaker (the first half of one of the most disturbing horror films ever made is essentially a rom-com!). Someone new to Miike’s work would be best served to begin with both Audition and Dead or Alive, as well as Ichi the Killer, The Happiness of the Katakuris, and Visitor Q—with the warning to be prepared for graphically disturbing situations and imagery.
Dead or Alive is my favorite Miike film because it works so well as a gritty, straightforward, ultraviolent gangster movie, but injects completely left-field situations of a highly disturbing nature (like a conversation that takes place on a bestiality porn set, with a supporting character acting as the dog’s “fluffer,” and another brutal scene involving a young woman meeting her demise in a kiddie-pool filled with her own feces). The film works because it hits all the genre convention notes pitch-perfectly, before completely subverting them.
Dead or Alive contains one of my favorite opening sequences from any film ever and an ending that is so utterly fucked up and stupid—to the point where the viewer wonders if the entire film was an elaborate “Aristocrats” type joke set-up for the impossibly surreal punchline—that it leaves most first-time viewers jaws on the floor. I place it in my top five most awesomely WTF movie endings, right next to Dellamorte Dellamore, Sleepaway Camp, Christmas Evil, and The Last American Virgin—but Dead or Alive‘s ending out fucks-up all of those fucked up endings. The aforementioned opening sequence to Dead or Alive is a brilliant piece of highly stylized editing, that on first viewing seems utterly chaotic and disjointed (though it makes perfect sense upon subsequent viewings). The sequence should be required viewing for any film student.
The new BD release of Dead or Alive (available for pre-order HERE), comes in a set with the sequels (in name only) Dead or Alive 2: Birds and Dead or Alive 3: Final. The two hard-nosed lead actors, Shô Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi, are the common thread, tying the series together. Though inferior to the first film, the sequels certainly have their merits and points of high absurdity. The third film, unfortunately, suffers from having been shot on (standard definition) video, though indeed many of Miike’s finest works as a director have been shot on video. This new release joins the superb Miike Black Society Trilogy boxset that Arrow released a few months ago.
Here’s the genius opening scene to Dead or Alive. Stylistically, completely ahead of its time, and absolutely perfect. Check out that 20-foot-long cocaine rail…