Combustible Celluloid
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With: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, Hitoshi Ozawa
Written by: Ichiro Ryu
Directed by: Takashi Miike
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 11/05/1999

Dead or Alive (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Please Pass the Soup

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It opens like a Smorgasbord prepared with a chainsaw. A man slurps down bowl after bowl of noodle soup in a restaurant. Two men make love in a urinal, while a third man slices the neck of the second man (in ecstasy, the first man lifts his head to bathe in the spray of blood). A stripper writhes away on stage, gripping the pole as if it were her last breath. A gangster storms in and shoots the soup man in the stomach and yellow soup blurts out all over the floor instead of red blood.

For about six minutes the soundtrack hammers with heavy metal thunder, the camera is on speed, and the images are so astonishing, you'll feel you've inhaled them. That's the beginning Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive, opening today at the Four Star theater. And if you think you've seen everything, wait until you see the ending.

I wish I could say that the middle of the film was as good, or that I understood it completely. From what I could tell, the younger Chinese Mafia is at war in Japan with the older, more established Japanese Yakuza. An honorable detective named Jojima (Show Aikawa) needs money for an operation for his daughter (whose sickness is never discussed), so he borrows money from the leader of a Chinese Mafia named Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi). Then somebody gets killed over something or other, and the battle begins.

Fans should not fret, though. In the middle of all this plot, Miike makes good with the cinematic shocks and thrills. In one scene, a woman is tortured to death in a pool of her own excrement, and in another a man deep-fries his own hand. And there's plenty in the way of shootouts.

Miike began his career assisting messy stylist Shohei Imamura (The Eel and Dr. Akagi) then embarked upon a series of straight-to-video films, as Dead or Alive, made in 1999, was probably intended to be. But virtually before it was even finished, it was a hit. Miike now makes movies fast and fearless (he's already completed five more films including Dead or Alive 2), not shying away from gruesome horror, homosexuality, or racism, all in the form of jaw-dropping, bubble-gum exploitation flicks. (Another of his films, Audition, opens at the Castro next Friday.)

Miike doesn't have the patience of Imamura or Takeshi Kitano (whose Fireworks cinematographer -- Hideo Yamamoto -- he borrowed for Dead or Alive), but I think that's a good thing. He's like a Herschell Gordon Lewis with talent, or a much faster Quentin Tarantino.

In any case, wherever he's been hiding, Takashi Miike is now finally ready to blow a hole the size of a Sumo Wrestler in American movie theaters. Don't miss Dead or Alive or next week's Audition, or you'll regret it.

DVD Details: Kino Home Video has released the original director's cut on a great American Region 1 DVD, complete with a Takashi Miike interview and trailers. Plus they were kind enough to quote me on the front of the box!{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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