Clicking the sticks with a Ramones-style count-off–"One, two, three, four" spat together as a single word–Takashi Miike's splatterpunk yakuza thriller Dead Or Alive opens with a 10-minute orgy of mayhem that's both shockingly fast and too fast to shock. Without explanation, Miike lobs one crazed scene of excess after another: A gangster snorts a line of cocaine the length of a party sub, a grinding stripper yields the stage to a knife-throwing clown, a boy's face mists with spray from the slashed throat of the man sodomizing him, and a gutshot glutton's stomach explodes with more noodles than blood. Working at the breakneck pace of three or four movies a year (Dead Or Alive 2 was already in the can by the time Dead Or Alive hit America), Miike appears to possess a bottomless reserve of negative energy and a gorehound's sick urge to top himself. (The graphic torture scenes in Ichi The Killer, which included a naked man hanging by hooks from a ceiling while his body was doused in boiling-hot oil, prompted the film's handlers to distribute promotional barf bags at the Toronto Film Festival.) But between the frenetic start and an outrageously inspired, unbelievable ending, Dead Or Alive sags into a long, disappointing midsection that rehashes cop and gangster archetypes to mostly forgettable effect. In Tokyo's crime-ridden Shinjuko quarter, scores of Chinese Mafia members, Japanese yakuza, and corrupt cops constantly vie for power and settle old scores. Sho Aikawa stars as a clean-cut officer and family man whose teenage daughter's need for an operation forces him to associate with ruthless Chinese mobster Riki Takeuchi. Meanwhile, Takeuchi and his brash young associates become targets of yakuza thugs after doing business on their turf. Amid all the chaos, it takes time to sort out the warring parties, but it's not really worth the effort, since delicate shadings of character aren't exactly Miike's strong suit. Dead Or Alive works best when he skips the convoluted melodrama and goes straight for the jugular, imagining sex-and-death scenarios too twisted for most filmmakers to fathom. He doesn't seem to care if the violence is amusing or merely gross, just as long as there's a lot of it, so a hilarious shootout involving a man in a giant stuffed Toki bird costume can coexist with a gruesome scene of a hooker drowned in her own excrement. Miike is an unstable talent, to say the least, but his Grand Guignol horrors aren't easy to forget.
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