By now you probably should've realized Sogo Ishii (August In The Water, Electric Dragon 80.000V, Kyoshin) is set firmly on my shortlist of favorite directors. I appreciate his
punk approach to cinema, but he also has a softer side he's not afraid
of showing. Dead End Run combines both aspects of Ishii's work and
blends them into an explosive rush of beauty and style. The result is a
60 minute anthology film featuring three phenomenal shorts.
Dead End Run is Ishii's "gone-digital film". Like many others he started
experimenting with digital film in the early 2000's. While the image
quality may be a bit grainy at times, it's clear that mobility and
editing benefit a lot from the digital approach. Bluntly said, Dead End
Run is Ishii's way of experimenting with his new toys, lucky for us the
result is a bit more than just some technical wizardry. While the
anthology itself is not really high on concept (three people on the run
are trapped by a dead end), the shorts themselves are still pretty
exceptional in their own way.
Last Song (the first short) features a beautiful dance macabre. While
Ishii is known for tightly incorporating music into his films, this is
probably his first full-fletched musical, and it's not even set to
anything remotely resembling punk. When Yusuke Iseya is trapped in an
alley he kills a passing girl by accident. The girl seems rather pleased
with her faith though and decides to recite one last musical number
with Yusuke. In only fifteen minutes time Ishii builds up a very cute
and endearing romance that left me quite perplexed when it suddenly
While the music itself is very poppy, the cinematography, dance
choreography and sound effects make for a very intriguing effect. And
while the setup might be quite absurd, Ishii has little trouble to make
this short come to life, transforming it into a quirky yet very
believable romance. A very strong opener to this anthology film and my
favorite of the three films shown here.
The second short (Shadows) features Masatoshi Nagase, no doubt one of
Japan's coolest actors in the business. The ideal man for the job too,
as this short is basically a 15-minute Mexican stand-off between Nagase
and himself, intertwined with a similar stand-off from the past. Ishii
goes western here, as he focuses rigidly on faces and glides his camera
between the two opposing forces, catching every angle before bringing
the showdown to a surprising yet fitting ending.
I'm not big on westerns and I usually find these kind of shoot-outs
pretty boring, but it's clear that a different setting and more inspired
camera work can do a lot for a scene like this. It's a great exercise
in getting the most out of one single moment in time, as long as you
manage to keep it varied and interesting. A great little short that is
low on substance, but high on style.
The third and final short (Fly) is a bit different in feel from the
first two. It doesn't play at night and Ishii puts more focus on
mobility, energy and action, making this short a bit more lively and
nervous. The film features Tadanobu Asano on the run for the police.
When he flees on a rooftop he runs into a girl which he takes hostage,
quite unaware of the suicidal tendencies of this young woman.
The short becomes a bit more fantastical near the end of the film, which
pretty much saved this short for me. While the first half isn't too
bad, it's nowhere near as special or spectacular as the first two
shorts. Asano is cool as ever, but the camera work was a bit too nervous
to my liking and the build-up towards the ending a bit too random.
Still, counting the second half of the short, it's still a beautiful
little piece of film making.
Overall Dead End Run is a fun, varied and classy anthology film where
Sogo Ishii allows himself to show his more experimental side while
leaving room for some softer touches. There are some very nice parallels
between the different shorts, there is plenty of audiovisual trickery
and the short running time makes sure you won't get bored. If you like
your films a little different this is a definite recommendation.
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