Takashi Miike’s Yakuza thriller opens with a barrage of sleaze featuring cocaine, stripping and guns. It’s brilliant
I’m slightly ashamed to admit how much I enjoy the opening scene of Dead or Alive, Takashi Miike’s violent Yakuza thriller. It’s essentially five minutes of continuous sleaze, resembling more an 18-rated trailer than it does the establishing moments of a film. It’s certainly not something I’d recommend sitting down to watch with your family – not unless your family’s really weird.
It starts with a count-in – “One, two; one two three four” – before a rock riff kicks in, there’s a scream, and a (not entirely convincing) body is seen falling from a building. It hits the pavement, a shady figure grabs a bag of cocaine from the resulting bloody puddle, and then we’re off into a strip club to watch a woman undressing for a bit. Then there’s someone with some guns. Then there’s some more stripping. Then more cocaine. More sex. More violence. Etc, etc, and on it goes, a crescendoing sequence of excess piled on excess.
Excess is something of a speciality for Takashi Miike. When people talk about “extreme Japanese cinema” there’s a good chance they’re talking about one of his films: 13 Assassins culminates in a battle sequence that goes on for 45 minutes; Ichi the Killer pitches “the ultimate sadist” against “the ultimate masochist”; when he was commissioned to make a low-budget movie on the theme of “pure love”, the result was Visitor Q, a queasy dark comedy featuring murder, incest and necrophilia.
(He also makes kids’ films.)
Dead or Alive’s USP is the pairing of B-movie stars Riki Takeuchi and Show Aikawal, which is similar to Pacino and De Niro’s first onscreen meeting in Heat. Pitching them against each other on opposite sides of the law, Miike gives this stunt-casting the appropriate sense of occasion by turning every dial up to 11. These first few minutes are a bombastic overture, signifying the deranged action set to follow; if you don’t like this ridiculous barrage of sex, drugs and violence, for crying out loud don’t bother with the rest of the film.
Even if you think all this is a pitifully adolescent attempt to shock, you’ve surely got the admire the deranged bravado on display. And if you think the beginning is OTT – just wait till you seen the ending.