Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

Dead or Alive – The wild world of Takashi Miike!

One of my favourite films by my favourite outlaw director is playing tonight at Toronto's Royal Theatre: Dead or Alive, by Takashi Miike!

If you want to see a CTV.ca story I've written in part about him, check out: Midnight Madness screens cinema's wilder side.

Dead or Alive is a 1999 film essentially about a very cool Chinese crime boss in Japan and the stolid, beaten-down-but-not-quite-broken cop who's pursuing him.

The first 10 minutes are pure, distilled, 190-proof nihilism ferociously driven by speed-metal guitar. This segment could have been used as the violence aversion film for Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

If you get the last five minutes, you will be rolling on the floor of the theatre, screaming with laughter.

Some reviewers didn't get it, quite frankly. Take these samples from rottentomatoes.com:

“Miike's strenuously exploitative style is almost completely devoid of humor (?!?! – billd), and ultimately exhausting.”
Daniel Eagan, FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL

 “The over-the-top finale is hilarious, but it was only then that I realized the film was supposed to be an out-and-out comedy. Maybe it's a Japanese thing, but I don't really get it.”
MaryAnn Johanson, FLICK FILOSOPHER

 “While the whole is diverting, the ending's utter repudiation of reality seems like pissing on the audience.”
Andy Klein, NEW TIMES

C+ “A trashy work of so-called art.”
Dennis Schwartz, OZUS' WORLD MOVIE REVIEWS

I think some of these reviewers didn't like it because they suspected the joke was on them.:)

It's not a perfect film. Taken as a whole, I would give it about 6.5/10, but the beginning and end push that up. It drags slightly in the middle, and some of the scenes are off-puttingly misogynistic.

However, in some scenes, he shows an amazing ability to stylize violence on screen, right up there with masters like Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) Martin Scorcese (Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) and John Woo (Bullet in the Head).

For the most part, both in Dead or Alive and many of his other films, the violence is so over-the-top and delivered with such an obvious wink and a nod that frankly, only the thick-headed would take it seriously — or be offended by it, for that matter.

But the gore is a small price to pay for watching a director with a great sense of black humor and a fearless imagination — well, for me, anyways. :)

To contrast and compare, watch Dead or Alive or Gozu, and then watch Miike's Audition, a pure horror movie. I guarantee you won't be tripping out of the theatre with a smile on your face after that flick. But the violence, while shocking and sickening, is a necessary part of the story line.

That's it for tonight.

For a nightcap, here's a link to a Guardian article on Miike, which talks about Ichii The Killer (the most repulsive movie ever made, according to the NYT!) and Gozu (which I saw at TIFF in 2003 and absolutely loved!).

Addendum: This BBC Online story also talks about Japanese cinema and contains a mention of Miike.

Thu, December 9 2004 » Main Page