Dead Or Alive 2: Birds (2000)
Dead Or Alive 2 is a name only sequel to Takashi Miike's breakout Yakuza movie Dead Or Alive. Lead actors Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi made such a good impression together in the original that they just had to be brought back for another round, but here they play different characters in far different circumstances, in a movie that is very different from its predecessor. In fact, it's pretty different from any other movie I can think of, which is an accomplishment that Takashi Miike seems able to produce time and time again.
The DVD case tries to sell the movie as an ultra-violent gross out pic, which Takashi Miike is certainly capable of producing (and which DOA 1 was to a degree). In fact this is rather a misrepresentation. There are a few scenes of violence, and they are typically extreme, but they are few and far between, and really just serve as a backdrop for a fairly mannered and whimsical character driven drama.
Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi grew up together in an orphanage on a remote Japanese island, where they had good times and were the best of friends. But Show Aikawa is taken away to Osaka as a teen, and the boys do not see each other until many years later when they are both grown men. They meet up again on the island where they grew up, both on the run from the Yakuza. They chat, play games and contemplate what life has made of them.
DOA 2 has certain similarities with Takeshi Kitano's brilliant Sonatine, as gangsters are forced to take Time Out in an idyllic location and regress towards childhood. Miike makes the movie his own though, and the characters in particular stand out as unique and surprisingly likeable. The movie is usually billed as a comedy, and there are many very funny moments, but there's an underlying tenderness and melancholy behind it all too. It's a movie that definitely has the "heart" that Miike movies are sometimes (unjustly) accused of lacking.
Sho Aikawa undoubtedly steals the show from co-star Riki Takeuchi this time around, being far more animated and interesting. Takeuchi is brilliantly deadpan and stoic, but that doesn't work as well for him in this movie as many of his others. Both actors make their characters believable and engage the audience in their fates well though. Look out for an absolutely brilliant cameo from director Shinya Tsukamoto too.
DOA 2 is another uniquely Miike movie, full of little moments and details that showcase that imagination and intellect which I dare say are unparalleled in modern cinema. It's a much less stylised movie than DOA 1, but probably more substantial, probably more rewatchable. A highly recommended movie.