Sho AikawaToru TezukaKen'ichi EndoShinya Tsukamoto
Dead or Alive 2: Birds
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Masa Nakamura
Keywords: yakuza
Series: << Dead or Alive >>
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa, Noriko Aota, Edison Chen, Ken'ichi Endo, Hiroko Isayama, Masato, Yuichi Minato, Ren Osugi, Manzo Shinra, Tomorowo Taguchi, Teah, Toru Tezuka, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi
Format: 97 minutes
Website category: Takashi Miike
Review date: 2 October 2010
Wow. It's a magic realism Takashi Miike hit man movie about identity, relationships and the meaning of life.
I'm in awe of Miike. Seriously, there's no one else like him on the planet. Let's go through this film's ingredients, shall we? Firstly, it's the second in the Dead or Alive series, although I couldn't see anything connecting it with Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha except for the fact that it's another thematically rich ultra-violent gangster film with the Japanese yakuza and Chinese Triads, often starring the same actors as before. In particular the two leads are again Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi. Hmmm. That's quite similar, now I come to think of it.
Nevertheless Aikawa and Takeuchi are playing new roles. Takeuchi is much like last time, but Aikawa's now a blonde motormouth hitman in a garish shirt rather than a cop. That took a bit of getting used to. They knew each other as children and meet again while on the run after a bit of a ruckus as a consequence of their activities. They go back to the island where they grew up, which we'll call Hicksville, and for a while the film stops being a gangster movie. They goof around nostalgically. They meet old friends, one of whom is pregnant. This is charming and occasionally silly, as when our heroes get involve with helping out in some local theatre for the kids. This had me laughing at the screen, involving as it does very amateur acting, ridiculous costumes, a phallus and some inappropriate behaviour which the audience bizarrely seems to regard as acceptable for children. This concludes in our two hit men in panto outfits telling us about the power of love, courage and friendship.
This is intercut with gang war scenes of sex, guns, samurai swords and necrophilia with a corpse you've just killed. Call me crazy, but I think Miike's trying to get at something here.
We see a lot of our protagonists when they were children, which is oddly convincing because Aikawa's face is already the shape of a twelve-year-old's. Furthermore Aikawa turns out to have a social conscience and is donating all his fees from killing people to overseas charities. Whacking one criminal scumbag is worth as much as medicine for 30,000 children in the third world. He wants to do good. We even see them working on building sites, presumably to earn the money they need to live on if they're giving away all their criminal proceeds. There's a lot going on here, thematically. Every so often the film will flash up an intertitle, asking in English: "Where are you?" This is presumably a question aimed at us in the audience. It keeps asking why we're on this planet and what we're doing to make it better. Of all unlikely things, this film has a social conscience.
There's also an incident of the dog in the night-time, in the form of Takeuchi and Aikawa's old friends' reaction to learning that they're wanted killers. There's certainly no question that they find out. Takeuchi's face is on the TV news and in the newspapers, which the pregnant woman actually pulls out of the bin to double-check. That was interesting. Admittedly it would be easy to overlook this plot point in the headlong rush of Miike's energy, but the one thing you absolutely mustn't do when watching Takashi Miike's movies is check in your brain at the door.
Then you've got the magic realism, except that as usual it's really just Miike doing whatever the hell he wants. There's a bird metaphor, which has some connection I missed with Takeuchi and Aikawa's childhood and is realised late in the film by a sequence in which wings grow out of our protagonists' shoulder blades. Eh? What the hell? Every so often a flock of flying things will stream past the camera, which I'd have assumed were bats if this were a Batman movie. However just as often we'll get bits that are just Miike having a laugh, such as the gangster magician, the metre-long penis, the mobile phone yakuza and the killing of the dwarf.
Oh, and the entire ending would appear to be fantasy. It's also both thematically enlightening and laugh-out-loud funny.
Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha and The City of Lost Souls were also about relationships, but on the level of Chinese vs. Japanese and cultural displacement. This is more about individuals. Note also the Japanese Christianity and the way the film ends with a newborn baby. I can't pretend I've figured out everything about this movie, which is another thing I love about Miike. What's the comet about, then? There's a lot to get from Miike's films intellectually, yet they're also a violent adrenaline rush. He's realising his themes in all kinds of ways, including anti-realism. His storytelling palette goes further than anyone else currently working. There's something unpolished and unstoppable about him. He's an auteur, but playing to the trash cinema crowd. The more I see of his films, the more I find them fascinating.
However if you're just trying to tell this apart from other Miike films, it's the gangster film that's just chilling with childhood friends half the time and is really about personal relationships and what you do with your life. Oh, and this one's also funny.