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  • TBC
  • Comedy, Crime
  • 2002
  • 89 mins

Dead Or Alive: Final

Dead Or Alive: Final

Synopsis

Takashi Miike brings his Dead Or Alive trilogy to a close with a lo-fi blend of science fiction and action, and a typically over-the-top ending

About

In one of the most eye-goggling climactic sequences in living memory, Takashi Miike's Dead Or Alive (Hanzaisha) (1999) ends with its two implacably opposed characters - Sho Aikawa's cop and Riki Takeuchi's gangster - destroying not only each other but also the entire planet in an explosively over-the-top duel.

It may have seemed like the very last word in both male aggression and the action genre itself, yet this most terminal of conclusions quickly spawned two sequels, both linked to the original only by an oblique set of recurrent motifs, and by the continuing presence of the two leads (in different roles). A nostalgic rumination on adult violence and childhood innocence (ending once again with the death of its two principals), Dead Or Alive 2: Birds (2000) was more arthouse than action - and it remains one of the finest works in Miike's extensive filmography.

It is a pity, then, that this most eschatological of trilogies should have such a disappointing closer. Uneven in pacing and tone, unapologetically derivative, terribly scripted, poorly performed and cheaply cheesy, Dead Or Alive: Final (2002) is definitely the dud of its series, and no match at all for many of the other films this prolific director made in 2002 alone (The Happiness Of The Katakuris, Agitator, Sabu, Graveyard Of Honour, Deadly Outlaw: Rekka, Shangri-La), let alone his most imaginative creations (Audition, Visitor Q, Ichi The Killer, Gozu).

Still, the film is not entirely without interest or merit. Takeuchi and Aikawa make for an eminently watchable pair of misfits, and despite a mostly meandering narrative, Miike does manage to rally all of his energies into a bravura final scene whose hysterical outrageousness will leave viewers flapping their jaw on the floor in stunned incredulity.

It is AD 2346, in a yellow-filtered Yokohama, and there appears to be no future. After endless generations of overpopulation, war and pollution, the dictatorial Mayor Woo (Chen) believes that he has found a final solution to the city's problems through a programme of compulsory birth control and infanticide. Ryo (Aikawa), a good-natured wandering 'replicant' in a Universal Studios T-shirt, uses his bullet-time superpowers to help a young boy escape the clutches of Woo's chief enforcer, the nattily quiffed Officer Takeshi Honda (Takeuchi).

Soon Ryo has joined forces with the boy's pregnant sister Jun (Ho), her boyfriend Fong (Yin), and a ragtag group of rebels and mercenaries that is as determined to outmaneuver Woo as it is destined to fall apart. Equally inevitable is a final showdown between Ryo and Honda - but not before both of them have discovered an inner conflict between their programmed proclivity for violence and their emerging paternal instincts. A future, it seems, is evolving.

Where Andrei Tarkovsky used the ultra-modern underpasses, motor tunnels and spaghetti junctions of Tokyo and Osaka - never before seen by his Soviet audiences - to achieve his vision of a future Earth in Solaris (1972), Miike seems to have done the reverse. In 'Final he uses the graffiti-strewn slums and abandoned tenements of Hong Kong and Macao, which look far more dilapidated than present-day Yokohama, to stand in for the Yokohama of the distant future.

The only signs of modernity to be found here are some unusual wire-framed television monitors, a hovering zeppelin, a polyglot of spoken languages (only the two leads speak Japanese), and the odd android. Otherwise Miike's future bears all the hallmarks of history - there is even a scene where Honda is shown riding to work on an antiquated tram.

No doubt budgetary constraints had something to do with such ramshackle settings, but it also serves to ironise Woo's mantra about not repeating "the mistakes of the Old Past". On the contrary, Miike suggests, the past, mistakes and all, must always be repeated, as sure as humans have children and films spawn sequels.

Perhaps such thinking explains Miike's over-reliance on 'borrowings' from previous films (including several of his own) in this, a movie where even characters' dreams consist of black-and-white celluloid images run through an old projector.

However, all this seriously undermines any claim Final might make to originality. You can check off the references to Blade Runner, Ghost In The Shell, The Matrix (parodied far more cleverly by Miike in The City Of Lost Souls), The Terminator, The Handmaid's Tale, as well as to Full Metal Gokudo, Rainy Dog and Ichi The Killer. Even the hyperbolic mecha-man climax is, for all its excess, an open homage to Tetsuo, the 1989 feature debut of Miike's friend Shinya Tsukamoto. Strip all these intertextual elements away from Final, though, and you will probably find there is not much left.

Masculinity's capacity for destructiveness has been central to all three Dead Or Alive films - but here, as in Dead Or Alive 2: Birds, Miike sets this against the male urge towards fatherhood and familial love - as well as towards homosexuality, here embodied in the absurdly camp Woo. So perhaps it should not come as too much of a surprise that the film ends on a decidedly phallic note, as the two clashing antagonists give birth to a giant winged CG robot with an engorged penis for a head and their own spinning faces as its testicles. It is further proof, if proof be needed, that Miike, even at his least engaging and inventive, will always be a filmmaker with very big balls.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Terence Yin, Riki Takeuchi, Tony Ho, Rachel Ngan, Jason Chu, Maria Chen, Kenneth Lo, Richard Chen, Josie Ho, Sho Aikawa
  • Director: Takashi Miike
  • Writer: Yoshinobu Kamo, Hitoshi Ishikawa, Ichiro Ryu
  • Producer: Yoshihiro Masuda, Makoto Okada
  • Photographer: Kazunara Tanaka
  • Composer: Koji Endo

In a nutshell

Dead Or Alive: Final is a disappointing lo-fi sci-fi closer to an excellent trilogy - but even on his bad days, Miike always has something to offer, and the climax here is one of his ballsiest.

by Anton Bitel

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