Dead or Alive 2: Birds (Dead or Alive 2: Tôbôsha) (Dead or Alive 2: Runaway) (2000)
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Critic Reviews for Dead or Alive 2: Birds (Dead or Alive 2: Tôbôsha) (Dead or Alive 2: Runaway)
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Audience Reviews for Dead or Alive 2: Birds (Dead or Alive 2: Tôbôsha) (Dead or Alive 2: Runaway)
Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive 2: Birds is loaded with allegory and symbolism, some that works (like having feathers continually popping up from time to time in the midst of murders, or the sometimes mentioned comet representing wonder in the unknown) and some that doesn't (the re-appearances of the wings on the backs of Mizuki and Shu, and the over-usage of archive clips of impoverished people in Africa to emphasize the two hit men's end goal to donate all their money to that). But at the core Miike has a very thematically rich film, where the insanity, shame and/or brutality of bloodshed and violence and death are contrasted with what comes before people go down the path of crime- childhood. It's maybe that one is given sight to bloody scenes in person as a child, as Mizuki does when he sees his step-father dying on the bathroom floor dialing on the phone (one of the great images in the film). Or it's just that there doesn't seem to be much of a choice, or out of convenience, it's hard to say. Miike isn't out for easy answers anyway, but after a sort of bizarre meditation on the loss of the innocence we all have in youth, and how it can become uglier and without meaning. It's also, on to of this, a very good story of friendship and ties that bind that friendship going beyond professional duty or consequence. Mizuki and Shu, played by Riki Takeuchi and Sho Aikawa, also from the first DOA (however not connected by character or plot, only in part by mood), are hit men for a hire, and Mizuki, who hasn't seen Shu in many years, witnesses him kill a bunch of gangsters that he was supposed to fire on with a sniper. He follows him, and it leads the both of them, as they're in hiding for suspected/actual murders and money stolen, to the island of their youth. We see flashbacks of said childhood, of fun playing on the beach (a sweet gag, uncommon for Miike, is when one of the kids is buried in the sand and the other kids run away), but also the pain of separating and finding violence among them, like with Mizuki. Nostalgia comes back tenfold, as they reunite with another old friend, and Miike actually crafts sentimental scenes in this middle chunk that work, somehow, because they don't feel very cheap. Then, as if trying to cleanse themselves of their old crime-syndicate ways, they work at a playground helping out kids, and they even put on a demented play involving goofy innuendo with Cinderella and various animals. This play scene is juxtaposed with the sprawling yakuza/triad warfare that breaks out back at home, and it's here that Miike has not only, for my money, the best sequence of the film, but one of his best sequences to date. The play Mizuzki, Shu and the others put on is immature and a little crude, but shown to be all the more innocent and playful when compared to the manic, multiple murders that occur between the two gangs, as bullets fly, blood flows, and bodies contort all over the place as neither side really comes out victorious, or with many members left. It's Miike leashing out his wicked, no-holds-barred style, but also the goodness on the other side of the coin, and it doesn't get much better for a fan like myself. On the other hand, Dead or Alive 2, following this sequence, gets weirder by the minute, and sometimes not always for the best. With the focused narrative flow given for the Mizuki/Shu story, where they decide to come back to the mainland and keep going with their killings for money in un-selfish reasons, there's another subplot involving, I'd guess, the other killers out to kill them. But it comes off muddled, and even with Miike going for enjoyably crazy images like a midget walking on stilts, or the fate of a character named Jiro, it suddenly felt as if Miike was getting off track of what was working best. But if anything, DOA 2 tops the first one by delivering the goods on substance just as well as the style. Miike is always out for experimentation, with his editing and transitions and usage of a symbolic inter-title "Where are you Going". And isn't above getting some touching last scenes with Mizuki and Shu on the boat (Takeuchi, by the way, is one of Miike's best actors), even if it feels very sudden, that could be forced by another director but through him feel compassionate to their doom. While Miike and his screenwriter don't quite get deep enough to make this a great film about lifelong criminal friends, and he's still into getting laughs out of depraved acts of violence and bizarre sex (i.e. that giant penis in a couple of scenes), it's surely one of the better yakuza movies I've yet to see to go past its limitations and make it a movie where the main characters aren't just cardboard cut-outs meant for shouting dialog and dying at a clip.
Not a direct sequel, DOA2: Birds is less excessive than its' predecessor. How could it not be? Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi return in different roles in a different plot involving assassins assassinating the assassins (where have I heard that before?) The first might be a stronger story and packed with vices that would make a junkie tremble, but the sequel is stronger filmmaking. Funny, emotional, and disturbing, Miike's DOA sequel is almost an echo of Takeshi Kitano's Sonatine, in a good way.
Miike achieves something very unique here. Another proof that Miike knows how to put a balance between the madness and the calm. Oh yeah, a midget gets shot by 3 guns at the same time, and a guy with a gigantic penis gets killed too. Go watch it right now.
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