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Dead Or Alive
cast: Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, and Hitoshi Ozawa

director: Miike Takashi

105 minutes (18) 1999
widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region '0' retail
Also available to rent on video

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton
Dead Or Alive is one of those films that features an unexpected ending you are so unprepared for that the only sane thing to do is immediately watch it all again from the start. This begins with a frantic montage of grossly violent and perverse imagery before settling down a bit, into a steady build up of familiar crime genre incidents exploring the deep-seated antagonism between corrupt cop Jojima (Sho Aikawa), and ambitious gangster Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi).
   Although the slickly edited, in-your-face opening sets the overall amoral tone for what follows, its sheer feverish quickening conflicts with the more stately pace of later dramatic scenes - to such an extent that it seems like an entirely different movie. (Imagine fast-cutting rock promo video footage preceding a tediously slow European art house flick!) Questions of its curiously unbalancing pace aside, this is a remarkably poetic visualisation of scenes from the proverbial urban hellhole.
   Sometimes purposely blurry cinematography uses frequent handheld cameras to guide us through smoky nightclubs and claustrophobic alleys, where standard neighbourhood canvassing by detectives leads to the tiger-like fury of machine gun slaughter at a big deal-making feast for Chinese mafia and Yakuza chiefs. A slow motion Reservoir Dogs styled walkabout by armoured-car thieves, punctuated by sudden death, is admittedly clichéd, but you are likely to find the comedy scenes in a flood plain cemetery as compelling and unforgettable as visiting an eerie grey planet. Later on, the deliriously absurd comicbook style mayhem in the truly wild climax is such an abrupt change, from classic hoodlum antihero disorder - to the spectacular imagery of bizarre manga fantasy mania, the finale is magnificently transcendental.
   As he proved, conclusively, with the mesmerising ending of Audition, young Japanese director Miike Takashi is no respecter of cinema's narrative traditions, linear storytelling. To pigeonhole him as just another world cinema auteur is, of course, an unnecessarily restrictive label. This peculiar filmmaker is a genuine artist for the 21st century. Just when you think it's all over - and you have sussed his latest play - Miike changes all the rules, the teams and playing field, restarts the game with new laws of physics, then reveals these characters are not ordinary men at all...
   Already, there are two or three further Dead Or Alive films completed, and yet, avoiding movie world conventions yet again, these productions are 'sequels' only in title. They may have one or more of the same cast, but that's all that links them to this fascinating triumph of aesthetic wit over unadventurous wisdom.
   DVD extras: anamorphic widescreen transfer, Dolby digital sound in Japanese with English subtitles, text filmographies, interview with director, film notes by Chris Campion, trailer, Asia Extreme promo reel.
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