When you allow yourself to be immersed in the world of Takashi Miike you do so with the knowledge that you are going to be taken to some really messed up places. Then of course he tricks you and gives you something completely different. The Dead or Alive Trilogy is an example of three films where Miike takes you to the absurd, but also to the surprisingly sentimental.
Starting with Dead or Alive, we have the battle between Yakuza Ryuuichi vs Detective Jojima (Shô Aikawa). Ryu and his small group are looking to take over the Shinjuku underworld by taking out the Chinese and Japanese mafia kings. The only person who stands in his way is Jojima. While this battle is raging, we see the connection with family, which is a connection between the three films of the trilogy.
With Dead or Alive, the film starts in a way to fully clue you in to what to expect. A five-minute montage of cocaine-driven anarchy it sets the pace for things to come. A film more about indulgence into depravity and violence, this first chapter of the trilogy is the one you need a strong stomach for.
Moving to Dead or Alive 2: Birds, Miike pulls his trick on us and goes more sentimental. Shô Aikawa is now Mizuki and Riki Takeuchi is Shûichi two hitmen who cross paths during the same job. When they discover that they are old childhood friends they return to the island they once called home, where they devise a play to start killing for good, and the good of the children of the world. Dead or Alive 3: Final is set in a dystopian future where Shô Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi are once again pitted against each other. This time as a replicant and a cop who find themselves pitted against each other by a government who have outlawed relationships between man and woman, and fought to end the human race reproducing.
What the Dead or Alive Trilogy gives us is three films that in many ways can describe Takashi Miike’s career. Where the first film is unashamedly violent, gory, disgusting, and of course exciting, the second is more of a sentimental and thoughtful film. That isn’t to say the second hasn’t got its moments of craziness. The third is more of a fall back to the absurd, with the ending being somewhat of a typical Miike joke on what is expected from the films.
For fans of Takashi Miike though, the Dead or Alive Trilogy is some of this best work, but you have to watch them understanding that they are pretty much Grindhouse cinema that were designed to go straight to video. This is showing in the fact that the video quality for the films aren’t anything spectacular. They are good enough though, but the third film in this Arrow Video collection is the one that really struggles with the quality.
The Dead or Alive Trilogy is about family, whether it be the brotherhood of organised crime, friendship, or by blood. Even at its darkest, the trilogy looks at the commitment to family and shows its importance. The characters are driven by their loyalty and love, even if it means their eventual doom, and that is what makes Dead or Alive work. We care about these people and want them to survive.
If you’ve not experienced Dead or Alive, this Arrow Video release is a good chance to do it. This was my first viewing, but as a seasoned Takashi Miike fan I knew what I was putting myself through. There are disgusting parts, especially in the first film, but there are also scenes that are Takashi Miike at his best (which come in Dead or Alive: Birds). It is this contrast between the surreal and sublime that makes the Dead or Alive Trilogy a set that you simply must own.
The Dead or Alive Trilogy is available on Blu-ray now.