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Dead Run
Year: 2005
On the run in Dead Run
Director: Sabu

Yuya Tegoshi, Hanae Kan, Miki Nakatani, Etsushi Toyokawa, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima, Ryo Kase, Shun Sugata, Hitomi Takahashi, Tasuku Emoto, Ryousei Tayama, Kazuma Suzuki, Shin Yazawa, Sei Hiraizumi

  The Skinny: Pessimistic and dreary, this coming-of-age drama may not be very pleasant, but it has strong performances and enough ideas to make it worthwhile.
Kevin Ma:

     I have only seen one Sabu film before seeing Dead Run, and that was Hard Luck Hero with Japanese pop group V6. The film was a stylistic take on Rashomon, showing several perspectives of several ongoing chases. Considering Sabu's reputation for making chase films, I expected Dead Run to be another stylistic coming-of-age chase film. However, what I got was not as stylistic - nor as pleasant - as I expected. Instead, Dead Run is a thoughtful and sometimes disturbing coming-of-age mediation on crime, punishment, and consequence. At least I got the coming-of-age part right.
     Based on the novel by Kiyoshi Shigematsu, Dead Run tells the story of Shuji (Yuya Tegoshi), a perfectly normal kid with a seemingly normal family: a smart older brother named Shuichi (Tasuko Emoto) and two proud parents (Shun Sugata and Hitomi Takahashi). They live in an area near the ocean nicknamed "The Shore", which is situated near "Offshore", an area built on landfills whose residents are often looked down upon. One day, young Shuji gets lost in Offshore, and has a chance encounter with local smalltime gangster Demon-ken and his hostess girlfriend Akane. Even though Demon-ken is found killed in a brutal fashion soon after, the memory of the encounter lingers in Shuji's mind over the years.
     Years later, a church has moved into Offshore, and Shuichi becomes obsessed with the priest's notorious past. Meanwhile, Shuji becomes enamored of the only churchgoer, a rebellious young girl named Eri (Hanae Kan) who seems to hate him from the start. However, the two begin to grow closer as Shuji becomes a regular at the church. But a construction deal to redevelop Offshore has brought the Yakuza in; they arrive at the church to force a relocation deal, bringing Akane, now attached to criminals higher in the Yakuza ladder, back into Shuji's life. At the same time, Shuji's life begins to spiral out of control when Shuichi is caught cheating during an exam. With his his family slowly but surely disintegrating, Shuji has no choice but to run.
     Abandoning much of the efficient storytelling style he's known for, Sabu takes a sober approach in telling Shuji's story - possibly due to the serious subject matter. The 124-minute film takes its time to set up the characters and the various themes, so the audience won't be able to figure out exactly where the film is going until the end of the first act. But once the darker aspects of the plot arrive, audiences will have a hard time turning away as Shuji finds himself in deeper trouble wherever he goes.
     Dead Run may be too depressing or frustrating for some, as Shuji's journey becomes gradually more perilous, but those who stay around may also be compelled by the film's ideas about sins and responsibility. If one looks at the Dead Run's original Japanese title (Shisso means "to dash") and its association to the characters, one can get a pretty clear sense of what the film wants to say regarding responsibility. The tragedy of the story is that no matter where Shuji runs to, he finds himself getting closer to sin with every step.
     As Dead Run moves to its second half, Sabu lays out all the unpleasant stuff at once, losing a lot of the directorial assuredness of the first half. Nevertheless, there are plenty of beautiful, even touching, moments to be found. One scene in particular shows a storefront gate where an anonymous person has written "please kill me" with the phone number under it. Seeing the message, Shuji writes "Someone please be with me forever" with his phone number. Moments like these offer glimpses of hope throughout, but fail to lift Dead Run out of the pessimism that drives and surround the story. Even the over-the-top perverse nature of one particular sequence is overcome by its pervasive seriousness, as if Sabu won't even let his audience indulge in a little bit of exploitation violence because it'll get in the way of the film's serious messages.
     I find it hard to recommend Dead Run. It's a serious and dreary piece of filmmaking that's about as pleasant as a punch to the gut, even though it's really not that painful. At the same time, there's much to admire about the film - the performances, the confident direction (at least for the most part), the ideologies of sin and consequences - that I find it hard to not recommend it as well. Despite its pessimism, Dead Run is still involving and compelling enough to make it a notable artistic achievement, and deserving of more attention than it's getting. (Kevin Ma 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital
Removable English subtitles
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen