THE NAKED CHICK'S CORPSE HIT THE PAVEMENT LIKE A COLOSTOMY BAG FILLED WITH
CHEESE | Nov 7, 2003
DEAD OR ALIVE: HANZAISHA
Like Lynch, Miike’s films demand to be watched at least twice. Once for the purely visceral impact, and once to pick up on the symbolism and subtle nuances of the story. But if Lynch is Jazz, Miike is pure rock and roll. I had originally planned to review all three films in one encapsulating review, but upon returning to the first Dead or Alive I realized, to cram all the films into one review would be to do them a great disservice. So, in the next two weeks I will review the rest of the Dead or Alive Trilogy, consisting of Dead or Alive 2: Birds and Dead or Alive: Final.
Now, on to Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha
To say Takashi Miike is one of Japan’s most prolific directors would be an understatement. With almost 60 films since 1991 you might think he slaps out one manufactured product after another. Not true. His films are crammed to the brim with crazy/beautiful visuals, wonderfully ambiguous storylines, repugnant characters you actually care about, all wrapped up in a tight, extremely streamlined filmic package. No time is wasted with redundant story exposition. It’s as if the director is aware of his own mortality and wants to push every crazy, unique, mind busting idea out on film before his time expires. And man, he creates some wonderful pictures.
Some have complained that Dead or Alive is nothing but a series of completely unrelated, ultra violent vignettes desperately in need of a coherent story. These people couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I think this is a case where there may be too much story crammed into such a streamlined package for the majority of action filmgoers. There is absolutely no filler whatsoever.
The opening six minutes of the film are insanely fast paced. Miike cuts the whole scene like an extended trailer. Hyper fast cuts show you everything from suicides, gangland assassinations, strippers doing their thing, etc., etc., all while managing to introduce every single character in the film. Only after this sequence does he finally let up and proceed with the story at a less breakneck, more manageable pace.
The main storyline revolves around Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) and his ragtag band comprised of sons of Zanryu Koji (Japanese orphans left in China after the war who, in returning to Japan, find themselves accepted by neither culture.) Because of their second-class citizenship in their own country they decide to take on both the Yakuza and the Chinese Triads who happen to be forming an alliance to take over the current drug trafficking operation from Taiwan.
Meanwhile Detective Jojima (Sho Aikawa) is doing his personal best to put an end to the local drug trade, deal with a failed marriage, and find a way to save his dying daughter. Jojima is something of an oxymoron. He’s a cop with a strong sense of duty and justice, yet he is forced to take bribes from the Yakuza in order to pay for surgery on his daughter’s failing heart. He believes in a Taoist sense of balance in the world and somehow has fond himself on the wrong side of that balance.
Ryu, in turn, is just as conflicted. Crime pays for Ryuichi and he uses every penny in order to make sure his brother has the education he needs in order to become a respected member of society. Having grown up rejected by his own people in his own country, he doesn’t have an exactly cheery outlook on life. He wants to make sure his younger brother has nothing to do with the criminal life he is forced to lead. Being the textbook “man of few words,” when he speaks it is not merely to deliver a cool catchphrase, but his philosophical input on why the world works as it does. When two men of such strong yet conflicted character meet up for a final showdown you know there are going to be some sparks.
Of course when it comes to Miike’s films you can’t help but talk about the gross parts, but for a film touting a warning touting: This motion picture contains explicit portrayals of violence; sex; violent sex; sexual violence; clowns and violent scenes of violent excess, which are definitely not suitable for all audiences. I would have to say it is pretty tame. There is the infamous scene of Ryuichi’s girlfriend being drowned in a kiddy pool filled with her own poo. The hyper kinetic first five minutes of the film where Ryuichi’s clan take on the Yakuza, slitting the throat of a gay triad leader mid-sodomizing another man, a naked chick thrown from the top of a building only to hit the pavement like a colostomy bag filled with cheese, and a fat noodle junkie who, when shot in the back, sprays ramen all over the camera, but like his other films, the scenes are all done in such an over the top manner it is more akin to a violent anime come to life than anything you could truly take offense over. Again, people let less than 2 minutes of “extreme” on screen violence ruin their enjoyment of the film. Hell, Reservoir Dogs did much worse than this film by playing the ear scene straight.
But what about the subtleties of the story I mentioned? Not to worry. For every time Miike slaps you in the face with a gory visual there are ten times he slips an important idea or a plot thread by you. For example a back-story line for the relationship between Jojima, Sho Aikawa’s character and his wife is given in one sentence. She receives a phone call and whispers “you’re not supposed to call me here.” You see the disappointed reaction on Sho’s face and he goes back to sleep on his couch. They don’t need to have the couple explain in depth the wife’s infidelity. With one call you understand the emotional distance between the cop and his wife, why he sleeps on the couch, and the coldness in their marriage. In another scene Ryuichi is asked why he works on a team. He merely responds “Some can run, but can’t think. Others think, but cannot run.” Again, using minimal dialogue Miike gets a wonderful point across in a terse, extremely poetic two sentences. Miike understands his audience is smart enough to fill in the rest of the blanks.
And even if you can’t get over the “repulsive” aspects of the film, you can’t help but admit that Hideo Yamamoto’s cinematography is nothing short of genius. I love this cinematographer. His work in Hana-Bi (aka Fireworks), Fudoh, Koroshiya 1 (aka: Ichi the Killer) , The Bird People in China, and Audition is some of the best I’ve seen in modern Japanese Cinema. Dude’s incredible. Seriously. Every shot of his is beautiful.
Now, I’m not going to spoil the end of the film for you, but it is a completely delightful absurdity. In fact, Miike has said he tacked it on in order to play a trick on the audience. He wanted to completely throw them for a loop with something completely unrelated to the previous 90 minutes they had watched. With a lesser director I would be mad, but with Miike, you can’t help but laugh. The movie is so good you can excuse the director’s joke in the last eight minutes. While not as good as Ichi the Killer or Visitor Q, I still highly recommend this film. Check it out, at least twice. It’s totally worth it.