Dead or Alive 2
- Original title
- Dead or Alive 2 Tobosha
- Japanese title
- DEAD OR ALIVE 2 逃亡者
- Alternative title
- Dead or Alive 2: Birds
- Running time
- 97 minutes
- 1 May 2001
by Tom Mes
Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive was an eye-opener of magnificent proportions for many. A slam-bang, mindbending adrenalin rush which went far beyond yakuza movie conventions, with what is probably the ultimate film finale. When this movie was over, it was over.
So here's the sequel. And how does one make a follow-up to the end of the world? Quite simple: one doesn't. Despite the numerical title, Dead or Alive 2 is in fact a completely different story, the director and two lead actors forming the only similarities with part one. Straight from the opening scene it's obvious that this is a different film indeed. Instead of cramming several scenes' worth of exposition into a seven-minute hyper speed montage like part 1, DOA 2 instead starts with a one-take sequence shot with a fixed camera, filled with dialogue and lasting several minutes.
A bleached-haired Sho Aikawa plays Mizuki, a hitman in a loud shirt who is hired by an enigmatic magician (played by director Shinya Tsukamoto, with whom Miike made Tsukamoto Shinya Ga Rampo Suru (1999), a making-of documentary on Gemini included on the Japanese DVD release of Tsukamoto's film) to assassinate a yakuza boss with the intent of creating a turf war. The night of the hit, a mysterious competitor appears who shoots Mizuki's target in the head and then disappears as quickly as he came. Mizuki takes credit for the hit, collects the money and makes a run for it. He takes refuge in the area where he grew up, an island far from Tokyo. But the ship that takes him there also carries the mysterious rival hitman (Riki Takeuchi).
When the two meet it turns out they are childhood friends, both born and raised on the island orphanage where they have now come to hide out. The old bond of friendship is reinstated. While the two rekindle their memories and meet old acquaintances, back in Tokyo the yakuza have placed both men on their black list and the irrepressible magician forms their primarily lead.
It may come as a shock to the many who had Miike pegged as hi-octane wildman, but the understated style of the opening scene is characteristic of DOA 2 as a whole. Miike brings us less in the way of style and more in the way of performances, giving the actors a lot more room to show off their abilities. Tsukamoto delivers a deliriously energetic performance, but most of all it's Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi who reveal hidden depths as actors, going beyond the requirements of the quickly-made direct-to-video action movies in which they so often appear. Aikawa in particular shows a naturalism and spontaneity hitherto unseen. And Riki Takeuchi? Well, Riki not only smiles in this movie, he even (in a moment which is absolutely priceless) dresses up as a lion to perform in front of a room full of children. There is the definite sense here that Miike made this film in honour of its two stars as much as anything else. The hilariously brilliant denouement has only one simple message: Sho and Riki will never die!
Dead or Alive 2 is a slower, more gentle and good-natured film than its predecessor, breathing a strong sense of nostalgia. Where part 1 was a film about men unable to escape their fate, DOA 2 is a film about the joys of childhood and a longing for the lost days of youth, while contemplating the choices you made in life that have made you the person you are today. These two hitmen on the run play soccer, sit on the swing and hang out on the beach, while they reminisce about doing those exact same things when they were little boys.
But for all their differences, DOA 2 is still a true follow-up to Dead or Alive. Aside from the numerous visual references to part 1, there is the sense that this story is set in the same universe, where the same rules of logic apply and where the impossible is not quite that.
Being the change-of-pace that it is, DOA 2's biggest hurdle will be the expectancies of its audience. Many people will come to this hoping for another rip-roaring crime saga. They will probably leave disappointed. Those who are willing to judge this film on its own merits however, will find a small treasure. May Miike present them to us for many years to come.