Takashi Miike Reflection – Dead Or Alive: Final (2002)

Dead Or Alive: Final is exactly what it says on the box, the finale of Takashi Miike’s Dead Or Alive series of films. Once again, Dead Or Alive: Final is a film that bares very little similarity to the previous Dead Or Alive films. This time around, however, the film is set in a apocalyptic future filled with similarities to Blade Runner and Children Of Men as Sho Aikawa plays a replicant human drifter called Ryo in a world run by a crazy homosexual mayor who has outlawed babies in an attempt to control the population, and this mayor is whom Riki Takeuchi’s character ‘Honda’ works for. Oh, and the mayor has also created a drug which turns people homosexual, just in case this madcap series couldn’t get any crazier.

After watching all three movies, I’ve noticed a clear formula between them: they all start off with a crazed action scene, before slowing down in the middle to deliver an emotional, character focused story, and it always ends with a crazy action scene that one cannot predict the outcome of. It’s how Dead Or Alive and Dead Or Alive 2: Birds was structured and Dead Or Alive: Final is no exception. The movie begins by establishing this futuristic world in a bizarre way using silent movie clips, before introducing both Ryo and Honda in the first of their many battles, before slowing down, showing the two sides to this futuristic conflict: the mayor and his cronies and the resistance led by Fong, then finally ending with a battle between Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi a la Dead Or Alive. Another thing that links these movies together are the themes of nostalgia and loss. For example, in Dead Or Alive many characters try and hold on to what they have and rekindle the lives they had before the story starts before having it ripped away from them by violent means, Dead Or Alive 2: Birds is all about the comforts of nostalgia and how new life can come from old, and in Dead Or Alive: Final is all about a ‘new world’ – a dystopian society where babies are outlawed –  and people desperately trying to keep the ‘old world’ – a world of family, love and respect – alive. In a way, all three films are about moving on with life whilst ending the nostalgia that drags you down in the end, especially Dead Or Alive 2: Birds which wears this message on its sleeve.

However, this time around, everything’s different, and not just the new world that Takashi Miike has had to establish. Everything feels different and somewhat downplayed in comparison to the earlier films. Firstly, I felt that the characters were incredibly underwhelming. In comparison to Dead Or Alive 2: Birds where characters were fleshed out and enjoyable to watch from beginning to end, I barely cared about these characters at all. Every single bit of dialogue seemed general instead of personal, and nobody genuinely smiled this time around aside from one singular scene with Ryo. An example of this lack of personality is the character Fong. Fong, though he is one of the main characters of the movie, is incredibly underwhelming as a character because most of his dialogue establishes the world instead of establishing himself. He talks to Ryo about the mayor, the battles, the resistance, and although he talks about his girlfriend being pregnant, there is to little of a character to really attach to. This happens to every single character, none of them feel personal or charming, and they each run into one another.  The worse, though, is Sho Aikawa’s Ryo. Although I get that he is a drifter to this place, very little of his character is revealed. Throughout the majority of the film he’s simply reactionary to the world around him, and his own personal motivations and personality are never revealed until the final half an hour of the movie, and by then it feels far too late for any character building to be done. Riki Takeuchi’s Honda gets more a personal treatment, such as being the first character introduced to the story, but like Ryo, he doesn’t feel like a main character of the movie at all, mainly an auxiliary character to the mayor or even his own female sidekick, and thus I didn’t find myself attaching myself to that character either.

Behind all this though, there is a story that goes for an emotional experience: talking about family values during a tough time in the world. This is a storyline that has worked well before and after this movie, but Dead Or Alive: Final doesn’t pay enough attention to its characters in order to justify this type of plot leading to boredom and uninterest from a viewer. A lot of the film’s slower moments in the middle focus on quiet scenes with no dialogue in an attempt to flesh out the characters, but because they aren’t fleshed out enough to begin with, these moments become nothing more than feeling like hollow scenes that plod out the running time, which is a real shame. Takashi Miike is exemplar at character based story-telling, so I’m left wondering what on earth happened this time around. Dead Or Alive: Final feels so underwhelming after the fantastic Dead Or Alive 2: Birds because the characters in Birds were so strong yet the characters in Final were so weak. Even in the end, with the final battle between Ryo and Honda, it feels like the only reason Ryo and Honda had to battle is because Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi have battled before in the series. There’s no build-up, no tension, it just happens and I’m left incredibly confused. However, in true Dead Or Alive fashion, straight after the fight scene the film absolutely derails itself with one of the most bizarre endings that I’ve ever witnessed, even for Takashi Miike.

However, that’s far from saying Dead Or Alive: Final doesn’t have its good points. The world that the film establishes is fully fleshed out and somewhat interesting. Takashi Miike takes his obsession with perversion and sexuality and places it into the world itself, however, this creates a few thematic issues. It’s very clear to see that the film revolves around very classist themes as the resistance finds themselves constantly under fire by the mayor who wishes to enforce population control, but the fact that the mayor is very stereotypically ‘homosexual’ can be read as somewhat problematic. This film can definitely be read as anti-homosexual due to how the mayor is perceived as evil and perverted, with his saxophone playing boyfriend only ever dressed in a towel and his wish to control the world via a homosexuality drug. However, do I believe that this film is anti-homosexual? In my opinion, I believe it is and it isn’t. Whilst the mayor is the definite antagonist of the film, the plot definitely has more going for it than a simple good vs evil storyline, and so his character doesn’t get focused on that much. However, there’s no disguising the fact that the Mayor is a villain and even gives a propaganda speech on homosexuality versus heterosexuality. All in all, it feels problematic, but I can’t bring myself to say if it is truly anti-homosexual or not, mainly because of the way the characters are focused on in this world. Put it this way, if I found out that the mayor being homosexual was an afterthought that was only put in in order to fill a few plot-holes and put a little ‘spin’ on the world, I wouldn’t be surprised.

In terms of technicality, Dead Or Alive: Final is the most creatively produced out of all three Dead Or Alive films. Firstly, the whole film has a yellow color effect put over it in order to emphasize the Sci-Fi feel of the movie. The fight choreography is definitely the best out of all three movies as fight scenes go over the top with some amazingly visual wire-work. The special effects are, at times, odd, but definitely well done. However, I had the most problems with the film’s visual effects. The CGI is still very wonky, but unlike Dead Or Alive 2: Birds, where the wonky CGI separated the real from the unreal, the CGI is incorporated into the world of Dead Or Alive: Final incredibly heavily, and its always distracting. Every object that was made with CGI is poorly textured, poorly lit and poorly animated; which was a sign of the times, but it doesn’t help the action in any way. I was definitely wishing for more practical effects than CGI, and Dead Or Alive: Final did not deliver. I understood the plot’s need for CGI to show things such as energy shields, flying objects etc. However, it doesn’t work for Dead Or Alive: Final because the technology just isn’t there. It ruins the immersion, and I kept finding myself being pulled away from the film because of it…and that’s not to mention the final ‘thing’ made from CGI which is absolutely dreadful to look at.

In conclusion, Dead Or Alive: Final is a vast disappointment in comparison to Dead Or Alive: Birds, or even Dead Or Alive. It’s not the ‘bang’ that the series should have ended upon. The film has its problems when taken by itself, but in comparison to the other films that came before it, Dead Or Alive: Final is just disappointing. However, it definitely has its good elements, so its not all bad. I’d say it’s a tentative recommendation.

However, for the trilogy itself, I can understand why its so fondly remembered: Dead Or Alive has its crazy moments, Dead Or Alive 2: Birds is absolutely amazing, and Dead Or Alive: Final has some great fight choreography, but unfortunately when taken as a whole it is far from Takashi Miike’s best work, which is saddening. I feel that Takashi Miike works better on singular films that trying to make an eclectic trilogy, because it feels like the stories back him into a corner instead of letting his crazed ideas push forward in a singular film experience. Takashi Miike makes films, not flicks, and aside from Dead Or Alive 2: Birds, the Dead Or Alive trilogy feels like flicks more than movies. It’s a shame…but I’m far from done with Takashi Miike’s films.

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