As we mentioned in the review of the first part of the trilogy, the influence of Kitano was small but significant. This time, however, it is much more evident (from “Sonatine”), although the preposterousness that characterizes Miike’s style, still manages to dominate a large part of the film.
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Two contract killers, blonde-haired and quirky Mizuki Okamoto and cool and silent Shuuichi Sawada meet with each other by accident, during a “job” and soon realize that they are childhood friends. Their reunion propels them into travelling to the island they grew up together. As they reminisce the past and meet up with old friends, they learn a number of shuttering news and eventually take a big decision: to start killing for… charity, giving their earnings to the poor children of the world. Their decision, though, brings them against their old employers, the crime syndicates.
This time, Miike has toned down the absurdity for a large part of the film, mainly placed in the middle of the story, when the two protagonists reach their home-island. This part, which comprises mostly of them meeting old friends and reminiscing about the past, is the one that mostly reminded me of Kitano’s “Sonatine”, particularly regarding the setting and the presentation of the “soft” side of two protagonists. Miike even takes this concept a step further, by including a number of flashbacks where the two are children, mostly playing in the sand. Through this part, Miike shows the difference between the lives the two used to live and the ones they live now, but also highlights the path that led them to their current one.
This difference, of their past and their present, forms the most central axis in the film, with Miike “exploiting” it repeatedly, through a rather interesting tactic of cutting from the calm past to the violent present in successive scenes. Yasushi Shimamura’s excellent editing finds its apogee in these sequences, as does the whole film, actually.
Of course, the absurdity could not be missing completely, and Miike has his protagonists with wings on their back embarking on some impossible “quests,” and the final battle is definitely over the board, as is their whole “killing for charity” concept, for that matter. Nevertheless, Miike also makes a point of showing that no action is without consequence, with the path that leads to the finale proving just that.
Kazunari Tanaka’s cinematography is quite good, highlighting both the calm and the violent scenes equally, while the flashbacks are filled with images of a nostalgic beauty.
Sho Aikawa as the quirky, blonde-haired, man-child and the always cool (and sometimes even smiling) Riki Takeuchi as Shuichi are great in their respective parts, highlighting their chemistry in the best way. The fact that they also change their personalities completely, again from calm and almost regular to violent and extreme without any kind of deterioration in their performance, is a testament to the quality of their work. Also of note is the presence of Shinya Tsukamoto as Okamoto’s boss, who happens to conduct circus/clown tricks, in one of the most cult aspects of the film.
“Dead or Alive 2: Birds” is the most “tame” part of the trilogy, but also a film that highlights Miike’s ability to direct (or include elements of if you prefer) movies that are not based on violence or the extreme, but manage to present their comments through beauty and character development, for a part at least.