Written by: Michael Den Boer on May 11th, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1999
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Ichiro Ryu
Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Shô Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, Hitoshi Ozawa, Shingo Tsurumi, Kaoru Sugita
DVD Released: May 17th, 2011
Approximate Running Time: 105 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo Japanese
DVD Release: Eastern Star / Discotek
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.95
Dead or Alive was directed by Takashi Miike, a prolific filmmaker who has worked in just about genre of film. Some of his most notable films to date include The Audition, Ichi the Killer, Fudoh: The New Generation and The Bird People in China.
Plot wise Dead or Alive is a fairly routine cops verse yakuza yarn. And yet the end result is unlike anything that had come before it and has been rarely matched since. Things start off at a frenetic montage that heaps on the sex and violence. This opening set up also introduces all of the main players. After the aforementioned opening montage, things slow down considerably as the film shifts it focus more on the characters and their everyday experiences. And while there a few brief bursts of carnage during the film’s middle section. It is not until the film final act that the violence that open this film once again takes center stage, especially during the film’s metaphorical ending.
Visually the film is never short of memorable moments. With some of the stand out sequences being a poignant scene where Ryuuichi (a psychopath criminal) and his little brother who has just come back from America, they mourn their recently deceased mother. Another unforgettable moment includes a scene where a Japanese Yakuza boss named Aoki a drowns Ryuuichi’s girlfriend in a baby pool filled with feces.
The most glaring flaw of this production would be its inconsistent pacing which for the bulk of the film tends to drag from one moment to the next. On the flip side whenever violence erupts on screen this is where this film always excels. Another area in which this production holds up really well is the way in which it establishes who everyone is and what their motivations are. And while there are some cartoonish aspects to this film two main characters Detective Jojima and Ryuuichi. There are also a handful of moments in this film that do a reasonable good job humanizing them.
Performance wise all of the cast deliver and then some. Sure the majority of the performances walk dangerous close the edge and often verge into over the top territory. But then that is exactly why they are so damn enjoyable. Of course this film heart and soul are its two leads, Riki Takeuchi (Deadly Outlaw: Rekka) and Shô Aikawa (Zebraman). Another performance of note is Renji Ishibashi (Watcher in the Attic) in the role of Aoki. Ultimately Dead or Alive is a delirious exercise in excess that fans of Takashi Miike’s brand of cinema are sure to thoroughly enjoy, while everyone will shake their head in disbelief at what is unfolding onscreen.
Eastern Star presents Dead or Alive in an anamorphic widescreen that retains the film’s original aspect ratio. Considering Dead or Alive’s limited budget, it was shot for Japan’s V-Cinema market (direct to video). Colors tend to fluctuate from scene to scene, black levels are average at best and details range from soft to generally crisp. There are no problems with compression and edge enhancement is never too intrusive. Overall this transfer does a reasonably good job considering the limitations of this film’s source materials.
Dead or Alive was previously released by Kino Video in 2003, two versions, the R Rated version 98 minutes and the unrated version 105 minutes. The only version included as part of this release from Eastern Star is the full length unrated version 105 minutes. Having never seen this film before watching it via Eastern Star’s DVD release. I cannot comment on how Eastern Star’s release compares to the aforementioned Kino Video release. It should be noted that all of the extras for the Kino Video release have been carried over for this release from Eastern Star.
This release comes with one audio option, a Dolby Digital stereo mix in Japanese and removable English subtitles have been included with this release. Dialog comes through clearly, everything sounds balanced and music and effects sound robust when they need too.
Extras for this release include two trailers for the film, trailer # 1 (1 minute 46 seconds – letterboxed widescreen), trailer # 2 (1 minute 19 seconds – letterboxed widescreen) and a interview with director Takashi Miike (7 minutes 13 seconds – 4:3 full frame, in Japanese with English subtitles), who discusses the difference between V-Cinema and theatrical feature films in Japan, Riki Takeuchi, Shô Aikawa, Ichi the Killer and Dead or Alive. Also included with this release are trailers for Dead or Alive 2 (1 minute 29 seconds – letterboxed widescreen) and Dead or Alive: Final (1 minute 7 seconds – 4:3 full frame). Overall Dead or Alive makes it return to DVD via a well rounded DVD release from Eastern Star.