AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO, in the DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY BOXSET
RUNNING TIME: 87 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
It’s the year 2346, and the population of Yokohama is kept under rigid control by Dictator Woo, who has decreed that all citizens have to take a drug that prevents birth. His main man is Takeshi Honda, a tough cop doggedly hunting down children. His latest mission takes him to a family where Ryo, a drifter and also a cyborg, steps in to save the day and befriend the young boy. Ryo then falls in with a bunch of rebels who decide to kidnap Woo’s son to secure the release of political prisoners, though things don’t go quite as planned, and it turns out that Takeshi also has a son who he’s trying to keep a secret….
I had a feeling that Takashi Miike would really pull the stops out for the third film in this trilogy. Unfortunately, it proved to be a rather lazy effort that feels churned out. Of course the term “churned out” can possibly be used to describe Mad Miike’s films anyway considering he sometimes made as many as five films a year, but from the ones I’ve seen they were still made with some care and often considerable inspiration. Dead Or Alive: Final just seems rather lacking in flair and [worst of all for a director who loves to surprise] originality, a film which for the most part just strings together ideas pinched from Blade Runner, The Matrix, THX-1138, 1984 and many others. I guess that if taken on its own, it’s quite fun low budget sci-fi, but I [perhaps mistakenly] decided to watch all three of these films [and review them] over one day, and compared to the first two pictures it’s a major disappointment. Perhaps this genre isn’t a good fit for Miike, and to be honest he didn’t really need to set it in the future at all: with a few adjustments the story could easily have taken place in the present day and may have been all the better for it. I don’t want to sound too negative about it: every now and then there’s one of those weird Miike touches and the plot has a few surprises up its sleeve, but at times the result just seems rather bland, and that’s a word I never thought I would use to describe a film from this unique, one-of-a-kind filmmaker.
We do get another unusual opening, as some vaguely philosophical musings about the future are heard over part of a scratchy black and white fantasy film full of charming old school special effects. I don’t know if it’s from an actual film, or whether Miike shot the footage himself, but anyone who remembers the old Monkey TV series will have a huge smile on their face. I’m assuming that this is the film that some characters watch later on, but we’re not given any confirmation of this. Anyway, it is now the year 2346, the fact that this is the future represented by a crappy looking CGI craft flying between two tall buildings. This film was shot in Hong Kong, presumably because it would have looked futuristic to many Japanese viewers, but nothing is really made of this and they could have shot the thing pretty much anywhere. Anyway, we’re introduced to cop Takeshi getting his latest instructions from Dictator Woo, who constantly has a half naked saxophone player near him. “True love is eternal in homosexuality” he claims, and some modern viewers of politically correct inclinations who believe that all portrayals of homosexuality in movies and TV should be positive [which is to my mind as narrow minded a thought process as the opposite] may well find the character quite offensive. We then meet Ryo encountering a small boy desperate for food, then performing some decidedly un-human leaps and jumps as he bests Takeshi and his men when they come along looking for the boy.
Ryu soon encounters a group of rebels who kidnap Woo’s son so some political prisoners can be freed, but the prisoners turn on the rebels and only Ryu, the boy and his mother Michelle escape. Now no reason is given as to why this tragedy occurs: yes, Miike’s films often have random moments happening but something like this should have had some explanation. It’s a good example of the carelessness that dominates the whole enterprise. The three retreat to an island and there’s some of the usual Miike bonding, though surprisingly little is made of the fact that Ryu is a replicant, a robot built hundreds of years ago when such creations were commonplace. The two fall for each other and because this is Miike I was expecting some weird sexual stuff, but it didn’t materialise. In fact several times throughout the film one gets the impression that a scene has been left on the cutting room floor or just wasn’t filmed at all. Perhaps the movie was going over budget? Meanwhile Takeshi unsurprisingly starts to disobey his boss amidst some revelations which certainly surprised me but which maybe I should have guessed, though there’s isn’t really much point to them. And of course we do get a final confrontation between Ryu and Honda, and even a quick montage of flashbacks to the first two films which suggests reincarnation….or something. And the ending almost tops the finale of Dear Or Alive in its total, utter craziness, while also making some kind of sense. You’ll see what I mean.
There’s more martial arts in this one, though quickly edited so the participants don’t need to show much in the way of actual techniques. There’s some nifty wirework though. There’s also lot of Matrix-style bullet time stuff, some of it quite inventive and even funny [one bullet is deflected so it kills a bird instead], though the CGI is pretty lousy throughout, and fans of the first two films will miss much of their quirkiness. What with Riki Takeuchi looking rather ill at ease, it’s often down to Sho Aikawa to help matters and he does often come through, his extremely laid back, almost Clint Eastwood-style approach leading to some priceless moments, like when he nonchalantly brushes his teeth as a brawl takes place in front of him before he quickly puts an end to it himself. Some of the best scenes are between the two small boys, and are possibly the real heart of the film, though Miike can’t resist pinching a bit from Cinema Paradiso which is then never followed up on. This epitomises this film: Miike and screenwriters Hitoshi Ishikawa, Yoshinobu Kamo and collaborator on some of Miike’s previous films Ichiro Ryu seem more interested in taking ideas from various other sources. At least the usual theme of family is present and given a very unusual twist. And it’s nice to see the women get in on the action this time.
One character speaks in English, and another in Chinese, so sometimes people are talking to each other in different languages! This one does have probably the best, or certainly the most diverse, music score of the three films as Koji Endo’s work goes from bluesy guitar stuff with wordless human voice to wild saxophone wailings to unusual electronic sounds. In terms of cinematography this could be the most interesting one too, though the frequent bathing of things in yellow by Kazunari Tanaka isn’t the most appealing of visual choices. At least Miike by now has his trademark visual style, alternating long static shots with bursts of frenetic [but not overly shaky] handheld stuff, down to a tee. There’s no doubt though that this final instalment is a considerable let down, the typical Miike manner of thinking up things on the spot just not working here. There’s still some fun to be had though, and perhaps I was naïve to think that Miike would top or even match the first two which were very good indeed!
Dead Or Alive: Final doesn’t look as good as the first two films, though this is explained in a preface which says there weren’t any High Definition masters so they used an NTSC tape as a source. Even allowing for the emphasis on yellow, the picture seems a bit faded and very soft, though if this is the best that could be done then I shouldn’t really criticise Arrow who tend to produce discs of stunning quality, even – for example – having Deep Red re-graded because the master that they were sent wasn’t good enough. The interview with producer Toshiki Kimura, who is also screenwriter Ichiro Ryu, is another long and detailed talk going through the films he and Miike made together. He’s frank enough to admit that he’s less keen on Miike’s recent stuff. The archive featurette is like the one on the Dead Or Alive: Birds disc, but longer and with more interviews with Miike and his stars. There’s some fantastic footage of some wire work being enacted and going wrong. Then there’s some more old interviews and a very odd animated teaser trailer which has Miike’s huge head being blasted at by Ryu and Takeshi. A decent set of additions to a mediocre film, but the quality of the first two movies cannot be denied and overall I can still highly recommend another fine package from Arrow.
DEAD OR ALIVE 2: FINAL
*Toshiki Kimura: Drifting with Miike
*Archive making of
DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY BOXSET
*High Definition digital transfers
*Optional stereo audio
*Original theatrical trailers
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Orlando Arocena
*FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Kat Ellinger