The future sure is yellow in the last of Takashi Miike’s DoA trilogy.
“I’ve seen many places, none of them were beautiful.”
It is the year 2346, and most of the world has been rendered inhospitable by war. In the city of Yokohama, the dictatorial mayor Woo (Richard Chen) has implemented forced sterilisation upon his people, with those who have children exiled to the wilderness. Honda (Riki Takeuchi) is his enforcer and one of the few people allowed to have children. He’s been tasked with taking down a group of rebels, led by couple Fong and Jun (Terence Yin and Josie Ho), and finds himself at odds with the robot replicant Ryo (Sho Aikawa), who joins the rebels in their cause.
At a glance, Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive trilogy seems to be about as disconnected as a series of films can be, with the only links being two leads Riki Takeuchi and Sho Aikawa, and the general subject matter of violence. But maybe, if one looks close enough, they can identify something else, a thematic thread that ties them all together. Redemption? Free will? Eye for an eye? Fuck if I know. The best I can offer is a tentative “maybe?”, because try as I might I honestly could not really see why these films were all in the same series.
Not that Dead or Alive: Final doesn’t try to connect the trilogy. During one big clash between Ryo and Honda, images from the previous two films flash on screen, and the big penis robot that’s in the adverts is called the DOA Version 2001. And to be fair, it’s for this sort of baffling nonsense that I watch early 2000s Miike. Of course his sort-of Blade Runner film looks like it was shot in an abandoned industrial estate, drenched entirely in an incredibly ugly piss-yellow filter to make the world look more arid and apocalyptic. His worldbuilding is weak and exposited ad nauseum, and considering how much it needs to establish before even getting the story going, is mind-boggingly short at under 90 minutes.
In a lot of ways, the Dead or Alive films do a great job of showing us what Takashi Miike does best and worst. His ability to crank out watchable, highly entertaining films on no budget and even less time is something to behold, and he’s the sort of filmmaker who doesn’t really care about anything other than making his distinctly unique vision come alive. Final is just sort of the most Miike, for better or worse. At this stage in his career, he didn’t have the scratch from studios needed to pull off a higher concept film, and boy does it show here. The script, while not adapted from any particular source material, sure as hell feels like some obscure anime and the most sci-fi it gets visually is that one random dude endlessly playing jazz for the Hawaiian shirt-clad mayor in that warehouse.
There’s something about these Dead or Alive films, especially the last two that really makes me think that Takeshi Miike was trying to emulate Takeshi Kitano. Birds felt the most like one of his movies, but the slow scenes of Ryo and the others at the beach, just silently contemplating everything harkens back to Hanabi or even Sonatine. Final exists in a strange place where it’s neither as violent as Hanzaisha nor as meditative as Birds. It’s better paced than the former, for sure, in that there isn’t forty-five minutes in between scenes of violence, but as if to balance it out none of the action scenes have nearly as much punch.
It’s hard to really put into words what I thought of this one. In a way, Miike’s wry humour, trademark shitty CGI and low budget Z-cinema style gives Final some much-needed charm that helps us look past its paper thin world building and characters. But on the other, if it wasn’t for Takeuchi’s hypnotic performance or Aikawa’s natural affability, there wouldn’t be a lot to recommend here. Miike’s done better, even during this turbulent and endlessly creative period where he made like eight million movies, but he’s rarely done anything that’s more him.
Verdict: It might be something of middle of the road ending for the Dead or Alive series, but what could be more on-brand than giant penis robot.
Overall entertainment: 5.5/10
Sex: An outrageously low 1/10
True Love: Only exists in homosexual love, obviously
Tetsuo the Iron Man Reference: Fuckin’ maybe!
Sad music: When in doubt, go for the Air on a G String
Dead or Alive: Final (2003)
Japanese, English, Cantonese
Director: Takashi Miike
Writers: Hitoshi Ishikawa, Yoshinobu Kamo, Ichiro Ryu
Show Aikawa – Ryo
Riki Takeuchi – Officer Takeshi Honda
Terence Yin – Fong
Josie Ho – Jun
Maria Chen – Michelle
Richard Chen – Dictator Woo
Jason Chu – Prisoner
Tony Ho – Ping
Ken Lo – Gangster