Hong Kong Cinema

Dead or Alive (Takashi Miike)

Dead or Alive
  • Made: 1999
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: PAL Region 2
  • Release Date: 24 Jun 02
  • Company: Tartan
  • Length: 104 mins
  • Picture: Anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen
  • Sound: DD2.0
  • Language: Japanese w/ English Subtitles
  • Extras: Interview, filmographies, film notes and trailers
  • Classification: 18


Takashi Miike


Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, Susume Terajima, Ren Osugi


Dead or Alive - Not to be mistaken for the ‘girl power’ game-to-film fluff of 2006, Dead or Alive is the eleventh theatrical release and thirty-second film of Takashi Miike, and the first of a trilogy.


Ryuichi is a gangster based in Tokyo’s Shibuya district and has sent his brother to the USA to study. The son of war orphans in China, he sees himself as neither Japanese nor Chinese, and leads a small gang of similar societal outcasts. The Yakuza and Triads are about to make a deal on new drug route from Taiwan, and Ryuichi’s gang aim to muscle in to secure it for themselves. In the meantime Jojima is a driven cop looking to take out the gangs, feeling the pressure from both his corrupt boss to calm ease up on the yakuza, and from his family as his wife gets more desperate for the cash to pay for their daughter’s operation.

Inevitably, Ryuichi and Jojima’s worlds collide with explosive results.


It wouldn’t be quite correct to say of Miike’s films that you should expect the unexpected. After all, there is usually some combination of perverted sex, extreme violence, dodgy CG effects and bodily fluids to be found in his movies, but it is unusual to find the usual quota explode onto the screen within the first ten minutes. Before the film really gets going, we’ve already been treated to an assassin clown with a knife-throwing act, a man with noodles shot out of his belly and a salary man snorting a line of coke up a ramp.

At heart Dead or Alive is a generic yakuza picture, with two opposing characters looking to achieve success be it as crook or cop, and with the familiar Miike theme of dysfunctional families thrown in. But it’s Miike’s style that makes the film what it is, the kind of garnish laid on with a JCB that is almost overwhelming in those first few minutes, before settling down to dish out motes of plot and character peppered with dabs of weirdness. Riki Takeuchi and Sho Aikawa are great as the leads, both totally deadpan amidst the insanity and Riki’s impressive Elvis quiff and both able to stoically put across the worry about family problems that the characters are going through, even while their professional worlds come crashing down.

As Miike’s films go, Dead or Alive is neither as gonzo as Ichi the Killer or as dramatically successful as films like Ley Lines, but the colour-saturated face-off between Ryuichi and Jojima is quite possibly the best film ending ever made, and sits perfectly with the rest of the film.


The picture on this early Tartan Asia Extreme release is a little blurry, but is likely more to do with the source material rather than the transfer. The option to watch with or without subtitles is an oddly celebrated feature on the main menu. The best extra included here is a twelve minute interview with Miike that serves as a good insight into the reasons for his over the top style, and his approach to film-making in general. To round out the extra features there are some decent film notes from Chris Campion, the original trailer and a Tartan Asia Extreme trailer gallery.


Dead or Alive is not Miike’s best film, but it serves as a good introduction to his prolific output and is essential viewing as part of the excellent Dead or Alive trilogy.

If you already like Miike this is not to be missed.