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Dead End Run (Ishii Sogo 2003)


Dead End Run

Genre: Experimental Supernatural-Action Vignettes

review in one breath

Director Ishii Sogo is on an excellent roll in terms of producing top-notch Japanese cinema. Consider, for example, his most recent films. Gojoe (2000), at a rather epic 138 minutes, was excellent both cinematically and choreographically and continues to rank at the top of my "swordsmanship extraordinaire" category. His next film, Electric Dragon 80,000 V(olt) (2001), is much more brief at 55 minutes and filmed entirely in black and white, but has nonetheless earned the reputation of an action packed (electric) explosion.

Next in line comes Dead End Run which runs 59 minutes and consists of three thematically related vignettes. Dead End Run presents itself as nothing short of an experimental film reminiscent of director Kitamura Ryuhei's much earlier Heat After Dark (1996 - 50 minutes) and Down to Hell (1996 - 47 minutes). In Kitamura's case, these short experimental films segued into the production of the internationally popular Versus (2000) and propelled Kitamura into the limelight.

Ishii may be trying to follow Kitamura's precedent and has here created three 20 minute vignettes using an over-lapping theme and location. However, it is clear that Ishii has left unresolved some of the key elements raised in these stories, and so one might rightly expect he will return to this basic storyline sometime in the future with another, larger production which thoroughly explores the theme and fills in these gaps (much like Kitamura filled in the gaps of Down to Hell with Versus).


Though each vignette follows a similar pattern, the storyline of the third differs quite radically from the fisrt two. Each starts with a blackened screen from which the audience can hear a violent, crime-related problematic situation, followed by running footsteps. We then see, in each vignette, a shady, if not criminal, character (Iseya Yusuke, Nagase Masatoshi, and Asano Tadanobu, respectively) running at top speed, apparently with others in hot pursuit. During these all-out scenes of the fleeing character, Ishii utilizes experimental camera techniques in an attempt to stylistically capture the chaos of the moment. In the first and second vignettes, both of which take place at night, the fleeing character runs into the very same alleyway and perches behind the very same corner. In both these, the calm pursuer, who is the same person in both situations, soon appears at the foot of the alley and, using the same footage in both vignettes, slowly walks toward our hiding character.

At this point, a supernatural element is introduced which is somehow orchestrated by the pursuer and serves to confront the fleer with a critical, almost existential, situation. This situation involves decision, struggle, violence and death, and both vignettes eerily end in such a similar fashion that coincidence is all but ruled out. In these two, the same location, the same pursuer, the emergence of the supernatural, and the implications of each death suggest some deeper, powerful principles at work somehow determining this similar fate. These are the principles which Ishii leaves unresolved. We are not told if there is any significance to the location, nor are we told who this pursuer is. All we are given is the pattern.

In contrast to the first two, the third vignette is shot during the daylight, and the pursuers hot on our character's trail are three police. When their chase leads them to an isolated rooftop, the fleer grabs a lone girl who had been watching the sun, and holds her as a hostage, demanding the police to back off. Here the critical situation emerges, not between the character and the police, but between he and the girl. Though she does not speak a word, her deep stare causes the same pattern of decision, struggle and violence as contained in the prior episodes. Here, however, the approach of death proves transformative as the vignette breaks the pattern of the other two and ends as their thoughtful-provoking antithesis.


Dead End Run is fast-paced, fun and moving. The high-tempo soundtrack is matched by Ishii's continuous camera experimentation, and both come across as cutting-edge. The cast here is excellent, and in all respects pulls in some big names, even down to those playing the cops in the last vignette. At several points the narrative really pulled me in as the intended impact of Ishii's thematic pattern became quite effective. The transformation and struggle of the characters is developed quite well and has some real payoff for audiences. I am hoping that my guess is right and that Ishii intends to revisit these themes in greater detail with some future film. Until then, I can thoroughly recommend this experimental teaser.

Version review: Region 0 DVD (includes English subtitles)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
An interesting experimental film with a unique theme. My guess is that this is a prototype of a future Ishii film. Plenty of gun violence and blood spillage. One shockingly powerful steel pipe to the face. Two cosmic falls from rooftops. No sex here. Only rock and roll, violence and some inexplicable supernatural elements. Fun high-tempo vignettes involving fleeing yakuza thugs, a super cool pursuer, existential dilemmas, and supernatural transformations. Somehow these are all related to those cool rings each character is wearing.

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