Dead or Alive (1999)
Directed by Takashi Miike

Artistic Value: * * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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While worrying about how he can pay for an operation needed by his terminally ill daughter, a police officer in Tokyo's Shinjuku district investigating the struggles between the members of rival gangs comes into conflict with a ruthless killer who has been using the money earned from his criminal activities to pay for his younger brother's education in the United States.

Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive is unremittingly monstrous, lurid, and horrific. It is one of the most violent films ever to have been made.

In fact, innumerable vicious, shocking, or repellant episodes follow one another in such rapid succession throughout the movie's duration that the viewer is likely to be completely overwhelmed by these diverse atrocities. Gangsters, and a man dressed in a bird costume, are savagely gunned down at a banquet. A drugged stripper is drowned in a tub filled with her own excrement. A man snorts a line of cocaine long enough to kill herds of elephants. The throat of a rapist sodomizing a man in a public toilet is slit by a crazed assailant. A pornographer takes photographs of a woman having sex with a dog. A glutton sprays buckets of computer animated soup from his stomach when he is shot in a busy restaurant, and so on and so on. The movie is stunningly brutal.

Such incessant, exaggerated violence engenders in the viewer a tense feeling of extreme ferocity, but the repulsive nastiness and excruciating ugliness of these various acts of savagery and cruelty simultaneously make him aware of the horrific nature of what he is seeing. Dead or Alive is an exciting even exhilarating film, but its wild, frenetic pandemonium leaves the viewer aghast and able to appreciate the harrowing dreadfulness of the violent deeds being committed. By making use of such an approach, the director has created an amazingly evocative movie.

While Miike does successfully elicit profound reactions with his film, Dead or Alive is, nevertheless, weakened by a number of flaws which impede its emotive impact. The film's narrative is frequently difficult to follow because of the vast array of characters introduced. Many of Miike's special effects are frankly atrocious, and the movie's ending is disappointing. Though the director does conclude Dead or Alive with what is perhaps the film's most exaggerated scene, it does not fit in with the rest of the movie and, as a result, detracts from the quality of the whole.

Dead or Alive is, despite such faults, a memorable film. It is grotesquely brutal and lurid, but its exaggerated repulsiveness is effectively used, making it an interesting, if difficult, movie to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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