Takashi Miike in the space of 26 years has directed over 90 films, TV projects etc. which gives Fassbinder a run for his money if he had lived long enough to made films for 26 years. The Dead or Alive Trilogy came out at the point when he was beginning to gain attention from overseas with the release of Audition in 1999. It was also the same year the first Dead or Alive came out alongside another two Miike features along with some TV projects.
The first Dead or Alive is for the most part a relatively routine Yakuza film which is something Miike has already made quite a few by this point. The film’s reputation is mainly due to an extraordinary opening which is cinematic excess to the extreme something he is known for. It has everything from coke snorting, strippers and even a scene of a guy getting his neck slit while he is buggering another guy. It also has an equally crazy climax which comes out of nowhere. All 3 films star Riki Takeuchi and Shô Aikawa in similar but related characters.
Dead or Alive 2: Birds is the most conventional and in turn the best film of the series. It’s about two old friends who were suppose to do the same hit. They end up going back to their childhood island and end up teaming up to do some good and piss off their old employers. It cuts between the present day and memories they have of being kids, it’s still has a bit of the ultraviolence but it has a sentimentality which none of the others do. It also plays around with magical realism which Miike has used in some of his other films as well, the two hitman start spouting wings near the end.
The final entry is pretty dire it was shot on DV video which gives it a terribly dated look. Miike experimented with digital video for some of his films at the turn of the century as did many other directors, they really don’t hold up in an aesthetical sense. It’s set in a near future where their Totalitarian homosexuals have outlawed relationships between men and woman. Shô Aikawa plays a replicant (an overt reference to Blade Runner) and Riki Takeuchi plays a detective who are pitted against one another again. It does have a bizarre climax with a phallic robot and then attempts to connect all three films together however so stick with it till the end.
Overall it’s a mixed bag of films from Miike but given how many films he makes it’s almost expected. All 3 films have images that will be indented into your memory for a long time. The discs includes a vast array of specials features including newly filmed interviews with cast members, the screenwriter/producer Toshika Kimura, commentary on the first film by Tom Mes who wrote a biography on Miike, archival interviews, making of features and much more. The first pressing includes a booklet with writing on the series by Kat Ellinger.