Dead or Alive II: Birds
by Alexander Rojas
Takashi Miike’s sequel to Dead or Alive turns out to be a different film with the same actors…or something like that.
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I was expecting to write a review that would simply disgustingly glorify the body of work of one of the most exciting and hardest working directors in the UNIVERSE, but something really frustrated me. I was going to mention how this guy makes something like a billion films a year and every single one of them is a deep kick in the ass that leaves the taste of shoe soles behind your teeth, but again, I was frustrated. Along with many other fans, Audition was my introduction to his work. Soon, Visitor Q, Fudoh: The Next Generation, City of Lost Souls, Ichi the Killer and the beginning of the DoA Trilogy, Dead or Alive, made me realize we finally had a new cult hero. Director Takashi Miike became that cool senior guy in high school that just wanted everyone to have a good time and kept pressuring you to drink and drink until you spewed last week’s IHOP waffle special. You may feel like shit afterwards, but damn you had lots of fun in the meantime. Miike’s films have that under-the-influence-of-an-alcoholic-or-illegal-substance experience with the complete down and out hang over outcome. However, you always come back for more and go through the entire experience once again because you love it.
And so, recovering from the gore fest of Ichi the Killer, I was ready to take in Dead or Alive 2: Birds (DoA 2). Keep in mind the first Dead or Alive leaves you without much of a chance for a sequel considering (WARNING! SPOILER AHEAD) the world seems that it’s about to be eradicated. Well, leave it to Miike to make a sequel that isn’t necessarily a sequel you would expect. Actors Sho Aikawa (The Eel, Pulse) and Riki Takeuchi (Fudoh: The Next Generation, Battle Royale II) return to Dead or Alive 2 in new roles. They play Mizuki Otamoko (Sho Aikawa) and Shuuichi Sawada (Riki Takeuchi), childhood friends that grew up in an island orphanage who find themselves, after many years of not seeing each other, hitmen hired to assassinate the same man. After returning to the orphanage that they grew up in, they regress to their childhood memories. This experience leaves them wanting to change their ways and use their skills as hitmen to go after the very gangsters they were involved with as an attempt to make a safer world for the children of the world. However, this sudden change is confronted by three distinct silent yakuza assassins.
DoA 2 has several moments of Miike’s signature blood and splatter ultra violence. There’s even a brief moment of necrophilia for those who couldn’t get enough from Visitor Q. DoA 2 however is perhaps the most violently toned down of Miike’s recent films. DoA 2 balances the hardcore violence common in Miike’s films with humbling reflective moments and child-like playfulness amongst the characters. A recurring theme is the youthful innocence that is lost when one enters into a life of violence and crime. This approach to the sequel might turn off fans of the first DoA, but Miike delivers a film with fun characters. Sho Aikawa this time around is the more interesting character in the DoA series. Unlike his serious and vigilant character in the first DoA, Aikawa is a bleach blonde spirited assassin, who is somewhat of a comic relief to Takeuchi’s more serious character. Accomplished underground Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto (Iron Man, Tokyo Fist) has a great cameo as a magician who hires Aikawa’s character to assassinate a local gang boss.
Now back to my initial frustration in my review. Although I did manage to enjoy DoA 2, my experience would have been so much more satisfying had it not been for the awful English subtitle translation. Several sentences were incoherent and contained many misspellings. The three quiet yakuza hitmen communicated through text messages on their phones, but those messages were not translated at all. I was staring at close ups of Japanese text that I did not understand. Aside from my frustration with the subtitles, DoA 2 is a mostly enjoyable sequel, but barely measures up to the initial DoA.
Alexander Rojas is a freelance writer and screenwriter who hocks his talents on streetcorners around Chicago. He can be easily bought for a hot blonde and a copy of any recent Takashi Miike movie.
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