I have no other way to say it: this movie was brilliant! When I saw it last week at the Rotterdam Film Festival, I was completely blown away! And I wasn't the only one... Several other people at the theater actualy gave a (well deserved) standing ovation! This movie was just extraordinary. Not Miiki Takashi's best work (that would be Audition), but certainly one of his most enjoyable and fun flicks! I am amazed that the director is so unknown outside of Japan, because he really is a genius, inventing cinema all over again. He is only in the movie making business for about four years, but already has a body of work that counts no less than 15 movies which are all original and perfect in their own way. In Japan he is well known and is counted to the film avantgarde, but none of his movies really got a wide cinema distribution. Most of his movies are relatively low budget and made for TV, Video or small cinema release. Maybe this gives him the freedom to constantly re-invent himself and push the limit of movie-making in general and perverse, cruel detail in perticular.
Now back to Dead or Alive. The first ten minutes are just breathtaking and eccentric. But after this the movie pulls back into a more conventional Yakuza vs. Cop story, only to go completely over the top at the end. The end effectively blows up every genre convention and just HAS to be seen to be believed.
The basic story is, like I said, quite conventional and simple; a cop tries to solve a case of a group of hitman who have robbed an armored truck. This of course can not be done without getting personally involved and if that wasn't hard enough, he has some grave family trouble too, because his daughter needs an operation which he can not pay. Meanwhile the leader of the killer group is reunited with his younger brother he raised, who does not know anything about his profession. The kid brother tough is destined to choose sides once he finds out that blood money payed for his college education abroad. Meanwhile the band of killers gets involved in a yakuza gang war, fighting over a drug cartel.
The middle part, in which the story unfolds, is shown with very little action and at moments can be compared to the calm style of Takeshi Kitano. But Takashi's signature is always very clear, and there are a lot of small perverse elements that illustrate his tendency to push it to the limit. There is a scene, for example, where a gangster kills a girl by drowning her in a kiddy pool filled with her own poop. But over all the story is told in a very compassionate way, sometimes balancing on the edge of melodrama, but never getting too sentimental because there always is a certain ironic detatchment. Despite this sometimes Kitanoesque detatchment and calm, the movie succeeds in making you really care for and relate to the charakters. I think this really is a big accomplishment. Finally combining this more conventional, 'humane' crime/drama story with the outrageousness of the beginning and the end, and making this combination work, shows how brilliant Takeshi really is. A director that has to be watched carefully!
10 out of 10