A firm believer in the pace and pitch of exploitation moviemaking, Japanese cine-terrorist Takashi Miike disgorges as many as three or four toxic jawbreakers a year. His most notorious headfuck, the blind-date nightmare Audition (at Film Forum in August), represents the director at his most sadistic and controlled; Dead or Alive, Miike’s first New York release, is a showcase for his most extreme genre-dismembering impulses.
Ever impatient, the director opens by pulverizing what was apparently pages’ worth of setup in Ichiro Ryu’s screenplay into a flabbergastingly dense, semi-abstract montage of cartoonish excess, scored to a seizure of mock-Stooges power chords: A naked woman plummets to her death clutching a bag of coke; a man snorts its contents in a line the length of an entire room; a public-bathroom sodomy climaxes with a throat-slashing and an effulgent geyser of blood; a display of gluttony is followed, one round of gunfire later, by a camera-bound fusillade of ramen noodles. No less sensational, the film’s conclusion sneeringly mutates the predestined cop-vs.-thug endgame (featuring B-movie kings Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi) into a literally apocalyptic blowout. In between, Dead or Alive roughly assumes the form of a naturalistic crime drama, albeit one with a taste for outré abjection (bestial pornmakers stimulate a camera-shy dog; a stripper drowns in a pool of her own feces).
Miike’s commitment to cheap-thrill seeking is here complicated by an apparent disdain for policier conventions—which are alternately ridiculed, hyperbolized, and steamrolled. The basic yakuza scenario may be sketchy and overfamiliar, but it’s combined with Miike’s oddly specific (and longstanding) interest in race relations. The gangster (Takeuchi) is of Japanese origin but raised in China, and his sense of double displacement figures prominently. His straitlaced younger brother, newly returned from an education abroad, protests: “In the U.S., minorities aren’t all gang members.” The cop (Aikawa), meanwhile, is saddled with a long-suffering wife, a teen daughter in need of an expensive, life-saving operation, and a sacrificial partner—who, for good measure, is assigned his own cute moppet. Dead or Alive is, in many ways, a more effective exercise in (and critique of?) cinematic emotional blackmail than, say, Dancer in the Dark. For the record, while the film’s cataclysmic ending would seem to bespeak an anti-sequel position, Miike has since completed (among at least half a dozen or so titles) Dead or Alive 2.