Monday, 17 May 2010

Dead Or Alive

One, Two, Three, Four... GAAAHHHHHHH!!! Dead Or Alive kicks off in a blaze of sex, violence and gastronomic obscenity, tongue firmly in cheek.

By all accounts, DOA was made as a reaction to the studio, who presented the director with two bankable leads, a vehicle for a commercial franchise and told him to drive it wherever he wanted. A dangerous thing to do when your director is Takashi Miike. Miike, being the enfant terrible he is, has made a grotesque parody of a gangland drama, gleefully outdoing himself scene after scene. One pungently corporeal scene, where a girl is drowned in a pool of her own shit and a yakuza boss stamps down on her lifeless body proclaiming "I've done it again!" smacks of wry self-mockery on Miike's part.

Sure it's over the top, scarcely believable and lacking the complexity you find in his best work, but it's a hell of a ride! DOA gives us a turf war between a gang of street punks, led by Chinese immigrant Ryuichi, and a Triad/Yakuza syndicate. It's ultraviolent to the point of lunacy, bodies stacking up like a Jenga tower, and the all-consuming rivalry between Ryuichi and Jojima plays out like a wittier, smarter version of Violent Cop.

And then there's the ending. In typically post-modern style, Ryuichi murmurs "Here comes the last scene", before all hell breaks loose. Without giving the game away, let's just say there's a slight change of, well, reality. It's guaranteed to leave you with your jaw on the floor when the credits roll, in much the same way as the opening sequence does.

Dir. Takashi Miike, 1999

Kai Doh Maru

Whilst it makes a nice change to see an anime set in ancient Japan rather than some mech-infested near future, it's unfortunate that this particular anime is so stultifyingly dull. The makers of Blood: The Last Vampire have created a finished film with Kai Doh Maru, but at least with Blood you could imagine what might have been.

The washed-out visuals, a stylistic choice presumably intended to endow a kind of far-off mysticism on the film, only adds to the general torpor that sets in from the get go. The fact that the plot, supposedly based on Japanese folklore, is somewhat contrived borders on irrelevance as you will have long since been comatised by characters with less charm and guile than a bag of spanners.

Kanji Wakabayashi, 2003

Monday, 3 May 2010

Boiling Point

This was, I think, the first Kitano film to feature his trademark technique of interspersing the action with still shots - both 'after the event' type shots showing the consequence of some previous event and surreal stills, like Uehara wearing the crown of flowers or the the three diners smiling with squid ink on their teeth. Along with his deadpan black humour, these kind of directorial flourishes have served to mark Kitano out from the crowd.

Basically a blueprint for Sonatine, Boiling Point follows a couple of days in the life of Masaki, a garage worker and amateur baseball player who gets caught up in a fracas with the local mob. It's about the choices he makes and the downward spiral those choices take him on: after going to Okinawa to get hold of a gun and witnessing Uehara's own run-ins with the mob, he ultimately takes his revenge on the Otomo clan in Tokyo.

Structually, Boiling Point is very similar to Sonatine - local trouble, pilgrimage to Okinawa, kicking about a bit (on a beach), returning home, exacting revenge in a blaze of violence. Thematically too; the baseball game that bookends the film is a metaphor for life - the randomness of the game mirroring Masaki's existence with its arbitrary sequence of hits and strikes. It's just that it was all done a little bit better in Sonatine.

Dir. Takeshi Kitano, 1990