Dead Or Alive: Final
Japan (2002) Dir. Takashi Miike
Concluding a story is often hard for a writer; concluding a trilogy is going to be even harder but it seems Japanese provocateur’s decision to make his Dead Or Alive trilogy a largely unconnected affair made it a bit easier for screenwriter Ichiro Ryu and his co-writers in finding the perfect ending. Not that we get one of course, but you know what I mean…
After the orgiastic depravity of the first film and the introspection of Birds, Miike takes us to the only place left to go – the future. It’s 2346 and Yokohama is under the despotic rule of Mayor Woo (Richard Cheung), believing homosexual love is the only pure love and reproduction is therefore verboten. To curb a population boom, couples are forced to take a drug to sterilise them, a mandate enforced by ruthless cop Honda (Riki Takeuchi).
Standing their ground against Woo’s regime is a group of rebels lead by Fon (Terence Yin) and his girlfriend Jun (Josie Ho). They encounter a Replicant named Ryo (Sho Aikawa), eventually to join their cause after an attempt to assassinate Woo backfires. Woo is too clever for the rebels and thwarts their moves at every turn – until Honda learns he has been played by his boss.
I’m sure seeing the word “Replicant” set a few antennae twitching among any hardened sci-fi fans reading. It is true that Blade Runner provided some inspiration for this story but not enough for it to be a blatant rip off or even a respectful homage; you won’t find any of the existential exploration or philosophical discussion here that Ridley Scott’s seminal opus was noted for, not to mention Miike’s budget probably equates to the loose change in Harrison Ford’s pocket!
Shot on HD video (this was 2002) and not film not even an 1080p transfer can rescue the picture quality from being mediocre, whilst the only print Arrow had at their disposal was from China with Japanese hardsubs, blocked out by the English subtitles. The post-apocalyptic version of Yokohama also exposes the small budget, with rocky beaches and local slums acting as this impoverished totalitarian world.
A washed out colour palette suffused with a yellow veneer creates the impression of a toxic environment, while the insurgents attire is typically ragged and shabby, compete with spiky hair cuts for the ladies and lanky mullets for the men. In terms of world building this at least goes some way to ensuring the audience can recognise the social structure of the story’s setting.
There is something oddly progressive in having a homosexual in power inflicting his will on the world, likely to have Bible bashers screaming Armageddon although the end game of Woo’s anti-population decree is rather under-explained in that it makes no sense to have a world where human life will die out. But as Ryo proves, not everyone in Yokohama is human…
Unfortunately this doesn’t lead to a psychotic and surreal episode of Robot Wars (not directly anyway but this is a Miike film so…) and the theme of what it means to be human doesn’t become a soul searching thread for the cast to ponder over. It is touched upon and proves pivotal for one character but as an urgent and driving theme it is forced into the background, only to surface whenever some time needs filling.
Similarly Woo remains a paper thin villain with a flimsy agenda based on misanthropic desires that aren’t fully fleshed out, a problem that hampers the definition of the rebel group, appearing purely as the nominal opposition. On occasion we are treated a few moments of potent drama, specifically when a young couple’s child is born in captivity, its future uncertain due to Woo’s duplicity.
Elsewhere an attempt to assassinate Woo goes wrong but the rebels score a coup when they inadvertently kidnap Honda’s young son. They hold him to ransom, demanding his return in exchange for the couples Woo is holding prisoner, but this doesn’t play out so well for either side. Honda’s son experiences a case of Stockholm Syndrome with a young rebel boy whilst Woo is able to manipulate the situation to his own advantage.
It is frustrating to see so much potential go to waste with such a fertile story regardless of its obvious roots. One would think that even with his radical and subversive leanings that a director the calibre of Miike could have done more with the script but the entire film projects an air of ennui and lethargy from the notoriously productive filmmaker. Not that this is a bad film just one where Miike doesn’t appear fully invested in it.
Looking at this film in relation to its two predecessors, only the returning leads Takeuchi and Aikawa provide any hint of a connection between them and this final chapter (a cheeky Easter egg in the final moments notwithstanding). The violence is almost scant in comparison to before as is the sexual content, whilst the leads essentially reference their prior personae here, Takeuchi’s from the first film and Aikawa’s from the second.
Curiously the Sino-Japanese cast all speak in different languages – most of the Chinese actors speak either Mandarin or Cantonese, except for Terence Yin who speaks English; Takeuchi and Aikawa speak Japanese but everyone understands each other regardless. Perhaps this is suggestion that in this dystopian future a way has found to break down our understanding of languages so they all recognisable as a singular tongue? Would make life so much easier wouldn’t it?
How much stock you put in a trilogy, even a loose one like this, having a definitive ending will be commensurate to your enjoyment of Dead Or Alive: Final and the series as whole. If you are expecting one you’ve clearly not been paying attention so in that respect, it’s very apposite.
Not Miike’s finest hour (and 28 minutes) but a curious entry into his esoteric canon nonetheless, bringing this uniquely beguiling saga to a unique and beguiling end.