Dead End Run (2003) Movie Review

“Dead End Run”, the latest work from director Sogo Ishii, continues in the vein of “Electric Dragon 80,000v”, with its bursts of madness, rather than his samurai epic “Gojoe”. As with the former, “Dead End Run” is likely to polarize viewer opinion, as some will find it breathtaking and inventive, whilst others will simply shake their heads and call it a muddled, pretentious mess. I personally enjoyed “Dead End Run” very much, finding it to be an incredible display of technical flair that managed to generate a fair amount of emotional resonance despite bordering on being an experimental film.

Although somewhat obtuse and a bit too short (clocking in at just under an hour), “Dead End Run” provides something fresh and different, as well as a genuine piece of alternative cinema. The film (if it can really be called that) consists of three short stories, each around 20 minutes long and each starting with a man on the run. Though it’s not made explicitly clear, the three seem to be fleeing the police after some kind of failed criminal activity.

The first story concerns a man who ends up in an alleyway, where he accidentally kills a young woman. Or at least he appears to, as some very strange things start to happen. In the second tale, a man is chased into the same alleyway by a hitman, and a bizarre, drawn out stand off is set in motion. The final segment moves out of the alley and onto the rooftops, as an escapee (Tadanobu Asano, from “Ichi the Killer”) is forced to take a suicidal girl hostage during a confrontation with the police.

Although the three stories head off in wildly different directions, they are linked by a number of technical and thematic devices. For example, each is framed in the same way, and contains several similar visual stamps. This gives the film some vague consistency, which helps it avoid coming across too much as a mere exercise in style. This sense of coherence is furthered by the fact that all three are grounded with the same premise: a man on the run in a desperate life threatening situation, and in each case, the closer the man gets to his fate, the weirder things become.

All three stories have a rather manic feel to them, especially since the first one clearly establishes that normal narrative conventions are not being used, and that pretty much anything can happen. Although the middle story is a little slow, all three are very interesting, and the final one, which comes closest to commercial filmmaking, is quite exhilarating. However, viewers should be warned not to expect any kind of traditional storytelling or a narrative in the usual sense. I must admit that while I found the stories interesting, I’m not sure if there was supposed to be any kind of underlying meaning or point that Sogo was trying to make.

Sogo’s direction is the main attraction here, and “Dead End Run” is in many ways a quintessential example of style over substance. Sogo throws in pretty much every trick in the book, with wild editing techniques, visual effects, and varying film speeds to name but a few. In doing this, Sogo walks a fine line between creating something genuinely artistic and something that resembles a music video or commercial.

Thankfully, Sogo’s attention to detail and genuine attempts to create characters through the visuals rather than the script pays off and the end result is often spectacular. With so much going on, the film rushes by at breakneck speed and is quite enthralling. It also helps that “Dead End Run” obviously has a fairly decent budget, allowing Sogo to add a professional sheen and to properly realize some of the more surreal moments.

The acting is generally good, and though the characters are never on screen for very long, they are all convincing enough to lend the proceedings the air of a proper film. Asano is particularly good in the final segment, as is Yusuke Iseya (“Casshern”) earlier. Their performances are vital in a film like this, where the viewer is only given a short amount of time to get to know a character, and where we are asked to work out many of the plot details for ourselves.

Overall, I was very impressed with “Dead End Run”. Although not for all tastes, I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different, or if you want to see an example of visual techniques being pushed to a new and inventive level.

Sogo Ishii (director) / Sogo Ishii (screenplay)
CAST: Tadanobu Asano, Yusuke Iseya, Masatoshi Nagase

Buy Dead End Run on DVD