Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: April 11, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Dead or Alive – 105 min

Dead or Alive 2: Birds – 97 min

Dead or Alive: Final – 89 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 Japanese Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio:

Dead or Alive – 1.85:1

Dead or Alive 2: Birds – 1.85:1

Dead or Alive: Final – 1.78:1

Note: A DVD edition of this title is also available.

Like so many of his other films, Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive trilogy is something of an acquired taste—and this becomes immediately evident during Dead or Alive’s manic opening montage. The liner notes found on the back of Arrow’s packaging describe it as “an explosive, six-minute montage of sex, drugs and violence,” and this is an apt description. Unfortunately, this is the sort of MTV-music-video-on-acid aesthetic that has become all too common in film editing (especially in the action genre). This is in actuality style in the service of nothing—and even this is probably giving it too much credit.

Made between 1999 and 2002, the Dead or Alive films cemented Miike’s reputation overseas as one of the most provocative enfants terrible of Japanese cinema, and it is easy to understand why the world has taken notice. Each of these three films are fairly standard yakuza narratives but center around truly interesting characters:

In Dead or Alive, tough gangster Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) and his ethnically Chinese gang make a play to take over the drug trade in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district by massacring their competition. But he meets his match in detective Jojima (Show Aikawa), who will do anything and everything to stop them.

Dead or Alive 2: Birds casts Aikawa and Takeuchi together again, but this time they portray a pair of rival yakuza assassins who turn out to be childhood friends. After a botched hit, they flee together to the island where they grew up and decide to devote their deadly skills to a more humanitarian cause.

Dead or Alive: Final finds Takeuchi and Aikawa catapulted into a future Yokohama ruled by multilingual gangs and cyborg soldiers. They once again butt heads in the action-packed and cyberpunk-tinged finale to the trilogy. Each story is unique in theme and tone and showcase the director at the peak of his strengths. These are genuinely intriguing films—but they are only at their best when Miike shows restraint and concentrates on the quieter character moments. Unfortunately, these moments aren’t given the same screen time or shown the same attention as the ridiculously bombastic action sequences. Mikke simply seems unable to stay out of his own way and seems to constantly trip over his own “genius.”

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the two Blu-ray discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Orlando Arocena on one side and the film’s original one-sheet design on the other. Frankly, neither design suits this reviewer’s aesthetic sensibilities as both designs are much too busy. However, Arrow’s Orlando Arocena’s new design is marginally superior. The case is protected by a slipcover that features the same newly commissioned artwork.

In addition to the two Blu-ray discs, the case also holds an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring a nine page essay entitled Three Extremes: Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive Trilogy by Kat Ellinger in addition to the usual credits and transfer notes. Ellinger’s enthusiasm for these films is catching and her writing does add to one’s appreciation of these unusual films.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the films and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

Picture Quality:

DEAD OR ALIVE

3 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s high definition transfer of Dead or Alive is certainly watchable, but it isn’t one of their better efforts. The quality of the image shifts unpredictably throughout the duration of the film making any analysis of things such as grain structure, fine detail, clarity, color, contrast, and even black levels impossible to accurately discuss in any general way. They simply fluctuate too much to write a truly accurate assessment of the image—but this fact speaks volumes. Unfortunately, compression issues are an issue at times and darker scenes crush an astounding amount of detail. The overall experience is somewhat disappointing.

DEAD OR ALIVE 2: BIRDS

2.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s image transfer for Dead or Alive 2: Birds is every bit as inconsistent as their transfer for Dead or Alive. Actually, certain issues inherent in that transfer are even more problematic here. The coloring is certainly questionable here, and some of these color choices have a negative effect on the level of fine detail (as does the chunky grain pattern that pervades the image). Basically, all the problems in the previous transfer are only exacerbated here.

DEAD OR ALIVE: FINAL

1 of 5 Stars

My grandmother has a unique expression: “You can polish a turd and call it ‘candy,’ but it’s still a turd and it won’t taste any sweeter.” This expression sums up Arrow’s so-called “high definition” transfer of Dead or Alive: Final—which actually an upscaled standard definition image. Arrow could hardly be expected to magically turn a film that was shot in standard definition digital video into a pleasant high definition image, but one wonders if upscaling the image was the proper choice. A super-bit DVD disc might have looked a bit better than this does. It would certainly take care of those unsightly interlacing artifacts found throughout this transfer. Colors aren’t particularly attractive, but this seems to be the result of some of the aesthetic choices made during the film’s production. Obviously, detail is inappreciable and this is alright because the soft image is inherent in the source. Our only real complaint is that Arrow didn’t work out a way of presenting the film without the interlacing issues. Other options were certainly available to them. There are also several Japanese subtitles burnt into the image throughout the duration of the film.

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Each film is equipped with 2.0 Linear PCM audio and optional English subtitles. None of the tracks have a shortage of auditory effects as each film in the series fit comfortably into the action genre. Luckily, these 2.0 mixes are up to the challenge. The various sound elements are well prioritized and no unfortunate damage is evident.

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow offers over two hours and sixteen minutes of video based supplements—and this isn’t counting the commentary track. These special features are spread across both discs.

Disc One:

Dead or Alive: Feature Length Commentary by Tom Mes

Tom Mes has written several books—includingAgitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike,” “Re-Agitator: A Decade of Writing on Takashi Miike,” “The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film,” and “Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto.” It is obvious that Mes studies at the altar of Japanese cinema and that he is a faithful disciple of Takashi Miike just by listening to this engaging track. Mes feeds the listener information mixed with a bit of modest analytical insight with an obvious enthusiasm. Even the unconverted will find the track instructive.

Dead or Alive 2: Original Making of Featurette – (10:17)

This archival featurette is standard navel-gazing EPK fluff but it manages to entertain mostly due to the fun behind the scenes footage that features throughout the piece. It is engaging without ever enlightening the viewer.

Dead or Alive: US Theatrical Trailer – (01:42)

The US trailer for the original film is a fairy standard trailer with a lot of frenetic editing and the same annoying music that features largely in the film itself.

Dead or Alive: Japanese Theatrical Trailer – (01:19)

The Japanese trailer is very similar to its US counterpart and features the same editing style and music.

Dead or Alive 2: Theatrical Trailer – (01:25)

The interesting aspect of this trailer for Dead or Alive 2: Birds is how it exploits the first film in the trilogy—even going so far as to utilize footage from the original film. Sometimes the trailer even calls attention to similarities of the shot composition and action of both films.

Disc Two:

The Making of Dead or Alive: Final – (11:25)

Arrow includes a second “standard navel-gazing EPK” featurette that manages to entertain the viewer with behind the scenes footage without ever really revealing anything substantial.

Promotional Interviews for Dead or Alive: Final – (11:00)

These “promotional interviews” follow suit—only this time it appears that these generalized publicity interviews were filmed at one of the film’s premieres. They are worth watching but there isn’t a lot of relevant information divulged.

Toshiki Kimura: Drifting with Miike – (43:43)

This 2016 interview with Toshiki Kimura is the first truly substantial video based supplement included in the package. It acts as a career retrospective and finds the writer and producer reminiscing about a number of pertinent topics that include his how he began his career and his work with Takashi Miike.

Riki Takeuchi: Deadly Outlaw Riki – (30:28)

Arrow’s new interview with Riki Takeuchi is equally instructive and also offers a retrospective discussion about the actor’s career origins in V-cinema with a special focus on his collaborations with Takashi Miike. Fans will certainly be happy to have it included here.

Show Aikawa: Cop, Killer, Replicant – (22:47)

Show Aikawa is also given his moment in the spotlight as the actor discusses the Dead or Alive trilogy. Takashi Miike also makes an appearance. Needless to say, this is one of the stronger supplements included here.

DOA Final: Mystery Trailer – (01:39)

This is probably the most unusual trailer I’ve seen (at least recently). It utilizes animation and might be more properly labeled as a “teaser.”

DOA Final: Theatrical Trailer – (01:07)

The more standard trailer for the film is also included here and is less interesting but more appropriate than its animated counterpart.

Final Words:

Devotees of Takashi Miike’s eccentric cinematic universe will certainly want to own Arrow’s Blu-ray set as it is the best these films have looked on home video—but this isn’t saying very much.

Review by: Devon Powell

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