Blu-ray Review: Dead or Alive Trilogy

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Originally published on Cultastic on 31/03/17.

4-stars

Takashi Miike’s other ultra-dark high-concept trilogy also gets the blu-ray treatment, shining an even bigger light on the lesser-known work of one of the world’s most ambitious genre filmmakers.

Unlike Miike’s earlier (and far grimier) mid-90s Black Society Trilogy (which we took an extended look at here), the Dead or Alive trio are at least all connected by name, uniting actors Riki Takeuchi and Show Akiawa in a three-peat action-driven showcase that sees the duo both squaring off and teaming up across a range of ridiculously varied plots and genres.

The expected hyper-violence is obviously dealt out in waves, balanced out by the occasional spot of moving drama, but those familiar with Miike’s work will no doubt know exactly what to expect, and those not yet baptised into his depraved church of extremity might have a hard time coming to terms with it all.

Dropping between 1999 and 2002, during the very height of the director’s international fame (just after Audition and alongside his other cult hits Ichi the Killer and The Happiness of the Katakuris), there’s certainly much more of a cinematic quality to the trilogy than one might expect. We’re not talking stunning vistas or hefty doses of CGI, just a much larger scale to the ideas Miike is playing with. Huger battles, sillier jokes and weirder twists, which suits his bonkers storytelling down to a tee.

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In fact, to put things even more into perspective, whilst the first Dead or Alive might seem like something of a retread for Miike – another guns and gangsters thriller in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo – its indirect sequels mix things up again quite significantly. Dead or Alive 2: Birds throws Takeuchi and Akiawa together once again as rival Yakuza assassins who join forces and ditch the killing for a humanitarian cause (feat. plenty of strangely mythical imagery); whilst the third (appropriately titled just Final) ditches the modern world altogether for something much more futuristic and, even more oddly, cyberpunk-inspired.

The varying languages, from Japanese, to Cantonese, to even English, are back in full-force, as is the gritty, grainy, slightly video-style cinematography, but more than anything, the Dead or Alive movies can really be seen as a turning point for Miike creatively. At a stage in his career when he was finally hitting the bigger festival circuits (and wowing the likes of Quentin Tarantino amongst others while he was at it), the DoAs map pretty perfectly Miike’s shift from straight-up genre, to a completely different, more wild-eyed style, entirely of his own making.

Much like the Black Society Trilogy release that came before it, this set is no doubt largely aimed more at Miike completists than the much more casual world cinema fan, but anyone with even so much as a passing interest in the Japanese auteur’s work should consider any of the Dead or Alives an exciting watch. Again the Arrow Video triple-pack is no doubt the best way to experience them all too, offering up basic HD remasters of all three films, although those looking for special features beyond the bog standard interviews and audio commentary might want to do some digging further afield.

The Dead or Alive Trilogy is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

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