Dead or Alive

The last time I watched a Takashi Miike film, I discovered a hidden gem. That film was Zebraman. It's probably my second favorite Miike masterwork behind The Happiness of the Katakuris. The man is a goddamn genius. My opinions tend to be mercurial, and I waver when it comes to picking a favorite anything, but I can safely say that Miike is my favorite director. That's why I'm embarrassed to admit that I just now got around to renting Dead or Alive. Released in 1999, this was one of the first ultra-violent yakuza flicks to be exalted in the bloody pages of Fangoria.

Yes, I read Fangoria as a teenager. It's not a shabby magazine, but of course, it's no Rue Morgue. How did I pivot the radial point of this review away from Dead or Alive? Focus, Dom. Focus. If you know what "yakuza" means, then you know that the plot fixates on rival Japanese gangs. Both gangs jockey for position as they attempt to buy drugs from the Chinese mafia. A cop negotiates with the head of Japanese Gang B (we'll call them The Crips) to pay for his daughter's surgery. I'll stop there. I wouldn't want to reveal too much. Besides, it's hard to describe some of the zany shit that happens. You need to see it for yourself.

Dead or Alive is disturbing. It's not the goriest film of all time, but as his resume demonstrates, Miike knows how to get under your skin without relying on trenchant butchery. In one scene, we see a naked girl lying in a tub of human excrement. Her captor tells us that she has been raped, pumped full of heroine and tortured with enemas. "I flushed you out," he says. Miike only shows us the aftermath, but he has succeeded in creating a squalid, stomach-churning atmosphere. And that's just a single instance of harrowing imagery. I haven't even touched on the bestiality sub-subplot. I pray that it was simulated.

There is more to this film than rape and bestiality, though. The characters are sympathetic, the editing is swift (the first five minutes are amazing) and the storyline takes a few shocking detours. Dead or Alive isn't as random as Gozu or Visitor Q, but it's more unpredictable. Is that a contradiction? I promise that it makes sense to me. Add this sucker to your chopping list. It's not perfect, and it doesn't reach the standards set by Miike's best efforts, but it's a quality picture. I'm deducting a Z'Dar because of aimless pacing here and there. No big deal.

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