Released by: Arrow Video
Released on: April 11th, 2017.
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa
Year: 1999/2000/2002 Purchase From Amazon
Arrow brings together three of Takashi Miike’s earlier V-cinema works on Blu-ray for the first time in North America with their boxed set release of the Dead Or Alive Trilogy.
Dead Or Alive:
In the first picture, Riki Takeuchi (best known for his amazing mullet in Miike’s earlier Fudoh – The New Generation) plays Ryuichi. He is a Ronin-like criminal leading a small gang of criminals who have no allegiance to any social structures, be they law enforcement agencies or the local Yakuza. Anyway, Ryuichi and his gang decide to take their business to the next level and take over the Shinjuku drug trade from the Taiwanese.
As they go about eliminating the rest of the Chinese and Japanese mafia kingpins, an all too human Detective named Jojima (Sho Aikawa of Pulse/Kairo and Miike’s Rainy Dog) is making ends meet with some illegal activities of his own. His motives are good, at least, as he is doing this in order to fund his terminally ill daughter’s operation. When Jojima and Ryuichis respective paths cross, all Hell breaks loose as they try to outsmart and inevitably outfight each other.
This film is relentless. The first 10 minutes will melt your eyeballs and you’ll find yourself loving every second of it. Miike has taken the traditional Yakuza film of the past and totally thrown the conventions established by that genre out the window. While the film noticeably slows down in pace during the middle chapter, it’s still able to remain an intense and enthralling work, one made with a wicked sense of pitch black humor. Miike’s camera draws you into places you may not want to go, but it’s almost like you have no choice. Violent and shocking with plenty to be offended by, Dead Or Alive is a frantic ride through an ugly and insane criminal underground culture.
As to the performances? Takeuchi is a total bad ass in this film and fits the role perfectly. He chews a bit of scenery throughout, but that’s his style and Miike plays to his strengths that way. Subtlety isn’t really what the part calls for. On the other hand, Aikawa is at times both sympathetic and deplorable as he chases the criminals down. His character is a bit more complex and his performance reflects this. Both actors also do a great job of bringing their respective sense of ‘cool’ and their inimitable screen presence to the picture.
There’s a lot of action here, much of it kinetic, but Dead Or Alive isn’t just a bleak shoot’em up. There are moments of kindness and sensitivity that poke you in the eye and the film has definitely got its tongue placed firmly in cheek. Aikawa and Takeuchi both ham it up for the camera more than a few times during the duration and the ending, well…. If you haven’t seen the movie yet we won’t spoil it but you definitely will not see it coming.
Dead Or Alive II – Birds:
The second film introduces us to two childhood friends - Mizuki Okamoto (Aikawa) and Shûichi Sawada (Takeuchi) – who grew up together at the same orphanage. As they got older, they grew out of touch and moved on with their lives but, completely by chance, they reconnect when, during a Yakuza battle, they run into one another for the first time in years.
See, Sawada is the hit man out to assassinate the Yakuza leader but as he looks through his scope he sees Okamoto, a Yakuza bodyguard, going on a rampage and taking out his target! Knowing that once they’ve seen each other they’ll head back to the ‘secret hideout’ that they used to go to as kids, they reunite there in the remote town where they were raised. The reunion goes wonderfully, all sorts of pleasant slow motion photography and over the top emotional imagery makes sure that we know this…. and then they put on a strange play for the local kids with a turtle and a penis and a robot and a bee.
Given that the two men work so well together, they take the success of this play as a sign that they should go into business as assassins – and donate the proceeds of their efforts to charity. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, because the two men have been out of town, crime starts to spiral out of control.
A fair bit more comedic than the first one, Dead Or Alive II is fairly nutty stuff. It is too long and should have been about twenty minutes shorter than it is, but there’s enough over the top violence, strange imagery, wonky color schemes and semi-controlled mayhem here to mostly hold our attention. Once again the big draw is watching the two leads do their thing. Though there’s a cameo from Shinya Tsukamoto here, this is once again Aikawa and Takeuchi’s show and they are a lot of fun in their respective parts.
The story is self-contained, it’s really only a thematic sequel to the original, there’s no connected continuity here or anything. Miike, being Miike, throws in a lot of attempted shock value – strong violence, bloody gore, even some necrophilia, but as with the first film in and amongst the insanity there is some decent character development. Like a lot of Yakuza movies the story deals with the relationships that exist between the two main criminals and the sense of honor by which they operate. Flashbacks and old home movie footage help to solidify our characters’ bond. It all leads up to an ending both unpredictable and somehow completely fitting.
Dead Or Alive - Final:
Last but not least, the third and final film in the set takes place in the future of 2346 where the homosexual mayor of Yokohama has started controlling the population with an iron fist. He’s instituted mandatory birth control and started rationing food and other important supplies based on his own personal agenda, rather than usher in any sort of attempt at fairness.
Not surprisingly, some of the population has started to rise up against him. A replicant named Ryô (Aikawa) has joined up with one such group and together they try to get out of Yokohama to try again somewhere else. When the mayor gets word of this, he sends a top cop named Officer Takeshi Honda (Takeuchi) to bring Ryô back in, no matter the cost. Eventually Honda’s son is kidnapped, while Ryô has to try to figure out what it means to be human.
Clearly meant as a satirical homage to Blade Runner, Dead Or Alive Final is the weakest of the three films in the series by a fair margin. There is a good bit of action here, where you can see the influence of films like The Matrix come into play, but it’s once again overly long and while fairly ambitious in scope, Miike appears to have bitten off more than he could chew given what looks to be a pretty meager budget. The sci-fi elements are never convincing. This takes place in the future but it looks like the early 2000’s. There’s a giant flying penis robot but it’s never really properly exploited (why would Miike not do more with a giant flying penis robot???) and the pacing is sluggish.
Aikawa and Takeuchi are fun in their respective parts and the final nod towards Tetsuo The Iron Man towards the end of the film is a nice touch. The ending is pretty over the top and impressive in its own way, but lightning didn’t really strike a third time with this one.
Arrow presents the first two movies on a BD50 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The transfers for these two features offer noticeable upgrades over past DVD editions but viewers are advised to be realistic about how good these films probably can look in the first place. Miike’s tendency to shoot using odd color schemes and sometimes less than ideal lighting conditions can and does wreak a bit of havoc with the image quality here. There are other issues at hand, however. Sometimes things lean towards a blue tint, other times they don’t. Some shots look very nicely detailed, others look soft, maybe a little sharpened in spots. Mild compression artifacts can be spotted here and there along with some noise, and flesh tones can look a little drab sometimes. Black crush can be easily spotted in some of the darker scenes while spikes in the films’ grain structure are not uncommon. Having said that, these don’t look awful – Arrow hasn’t noted what sources were used for the transfers here, indicating that maybe this is what they were given to work with. Some more consistency would have been welcome here but again, the increase in picture quality over past DVDs is obvious from the start, it’s just never reference quality.
The third film is upscaled from a standard definition master to 1080i and framed at 1.78.1 widescreen, also presented on a BD50. As the film was shot on SD video, there are no film elements or any sort of HD master to use for this transfer. Taken from a tape master, it looks about as good as it probably can but the interlacing effects are unfortunate. Detail is soft, things are sometimes a bit smeary looking, and colors are flat, leaning heavily towards a green hue more often than not. The fact that some sharpening has been done to the image and seems to have created some halo effects doesn’t help much either. It is what it is – an upscaled version of a tricky looking standard definition source that probably had some of these issues inherent in the master source.
Each of the three films in the set gets an LPCM 2.0 Stereo track with optional subtitles provided in English only. There are no issues with the audio quality on any of the films, really. The occasionally hyperactive soundtrack bumps along nicely and with some good power behind it and the sound effects, gun shots in particular, pack a decent punch. Levels are nicely balanced and there are not noticeable problems with any hiss or distortion.
Extras on disc one start off with a new audio commentary for Dead Or Alive with Miike biographer Tom Mes. This is a pretty thorough talk that does a fine job of putting this movie into context alongside some of the director’s other films. It also provides lots of background information not only on Miike but on his two leading men as well. Mes covers some of the themes that recur throughout and he offers some insight into the effectiveness of some of the picture’s more memorable set pieces.
Carried over from the older DVD release is an archival making of featurette for Dead Or Alive II: Birds that runs just over ten minutes. There’s some interesting behind the scenes footage included in here and it’s pretty cool to get a chance to check out what it was like on set. Two theatrical trailers for the first feature and one for the second are included here too. Menus and chapter selection round out the supplements on the first disc.
On disc two is where the rest of the extras live, starting with a new interview with actor Riki Takeuchi that runs thirty minutes. This is basically a career retrospective piece that lets the actor talk about his origins in the film industry, various V-cinema projects he’s been involved with and of course his work with Miike on these films. Up next is a new interview with actor Sho Aikawa clocking in at twenty-three minutes. Focused mostly on the actor’s work on the Dead Or Alive films rather than his career in V-cinema as a whole, this piece sees Sho talking about Miike’s directing abilities, starring alongside Takeuchi and his thoughts on the characters he’s played and the films in general. Arrow has also included a new interview with producer and screenwriter Toshiki Kimura that runs forty-four minutes. He and Miike have worked together a lot over the years and have clearly become good friends. Here he talks about writing a few of the scripts that Miike has directed as well as how he got his start in the business and his thoughts on some of these projects.
Also included on the second disc is an archival featurette for Dead Or Alive: Final that runs eleven minutes. It’s similar in tone and style to the archival featurette included for the second film and it gives us a look at the movie as it was being made, providing a welcome look behind the scenes with the cast and crew. There’s also eleven minutes of archival cast and crew interviews that look to have been shot at the film’s premiere. These are fairly light but occasionally amusing. Miike’s a weird guy and interesting to listen to and the two leads are characters in their own right.
Two theatrical trailers for the feature, menus and chapter selection round out the supplements on the second disc.
Included along with the two Blu-ray discs inside the clear case is an insert booklet containing an essay on the films by Kat Ellinger along with cast and crew information for the features and credits and technical notes on the Blu-ray release. Arrow has also provided some reversible sleeve art featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Orlando Arocena. The case in turn fits inside a metallic slipcover.
The Final Word:
Arrows Blu-ray release of Takashi Miike’s Dead Or Alive Trilogy isn’t going to win any awards for best presentation of the year but it does offer noticeable upgrades over the previous North American DVD set and throw in some pretty decent extras as well. As to the movies? The first two are really solid, the third one not so much.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!