Masatoshi NagaseTadanobu AsanoJun KunimuraMikako Ichikawa
Dead End Run
Medium: film
Year: 2003
Writer/director: Gakuryu Ishii [Sogo Ishii]
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Tadanobu Asano, Urara Awata, Mikako Ichikawa, Yusuke Iseya, Jun Kunimura, Ken Mitsuishi, Masatoshi Nagase, Yoji Tanaka
Format: 59 minutes
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 22 May 2013
For much of its short running time, I was wondering what on Earth I was watching and how the dickens it had managed to insinuate itself into my to-watch pile. The answer to both questions was the director's name in the end credits: Sogo Ishii.
You might remember Ishii. He's the punk director of Crazy Thunder Road, Burst City and The Crazy Family in the early 1980s. Usually in your face, if not always particularly watchable, he was a precursor to the underground Japanese Cyberpunk movement. In more recent years he's shown himself to be capable of calming down a bit (Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle), but bear in mind that his follow-up to that was Electric Dragon 80.000 V. After that, his next film was Dead End Run.
Some people have apparently thought this a sequel to Electric Dragon 80.000 V, because they're both under an hour long and star Tadanobu Asano and Masatoshi Nagase. It's not. (They were both in Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle as well, for what it's worth.) Instead it's three short films, run back-to-back and released theatrically. All involve a violent man with a gun who's running away from pursuers, then get weird before ending with death, bullets, high rooftops, etc.
What's it like to watch? Answer: disorientating. Ishii goes beyond shaky-cam into incoherent-cam, but he's also capable of switching to a dreamy, drifting camera style that's like an out-of-body experience, complete with Indian sitar meditation music. He's stylish. He's overwhelmingly stylish. He's so stylish that he's capable of spending ten whole minutes freaking out with camera angles like an electric neon Sergio Leone... while almost nothing's actually happening in the film. Style over substance? Whatever gave you that idea? It's like a classy pop video, except with an often-peculiar soundtrack instead of pop songs. Is that the creaking of a sailing ship in Story 1? Sounds like it. That was freaky, which is good.
Story 1 ends up being mostly song and dance numbers, although unfortunately that's less fun than it sounds. We're in a grim alleyway at night-time, there's only one singer/dancer and the songs are hardly toe-tapping. It's still really weird, though. One of the characters dies early in the short film, but that doesn't stop them from getting up and going on with the scene anyway. It also got a laugh from me when the killer petulantly asks their victim to forgive them for... yes, that.
Story 2 is the least memorable of the three. It's less bonkers than the other two and only has men who deserve to die, instead of also having a woman who doesn't. At one point I thought the protagonist might be a Kastrian from The Hand of Fear, but no. He's wearing a glove. The sparking electricity also made me wonder about possible Frankenstein references.
Story 3 was a mildly refreshing change, since it's not set in that grotty alleyway we'd previously been stuck in and it's no longer night-time. Instead it has Tadanobu Asano as a stupid, unpleasant man with the police hot on his tail. He's run on to a rooftop. Will he realise that the only way down is to jump off and fall several storeys on to concrete? Nope, doesn't look like it. At one point he considers demanding that the police give him a helicopter, but then he rejects that idea because he'd get airsick. Anyway, I was looking forward happily to Asano getting his head turned inside out by bullets, but there's a complication in the form of a girl who'd happened to be sitting on this roof. This is the most entertaining of the three short films, being a straightforward dramatic scene and not just a two-hander. It also made me laugh at the end, including the trippy bit that would be a good title sequence for an SF TV show.
Not to be confused with Dead Run two years later, from Sabu. I like Sabu.
Is it good? Don't know. It's an experience. It's good to see that Sogo Ishii's still eager to push beyond normal people's ideas of cinema. These days he calls himself Gakuryu Ishii, by the way. Don't ask me why. I suppose you could check it out if you liked, since if nothing else its bite-size nature makes it more digestible than you might expect. It's slow, yes, but I watched it all placidly enough and I wasn't clock-watching or reaching for the fast-forward button. It's bursting with energy, at least. In hindsight, I think I quite like it... but I needed to ponder for a bit before reaching that conclusion.