Sogo Ishii, more recently professionally credited as Gakuryū Ishii, is a pivotal figure in Japanese cinema, but until very recently a lack of international distribution has kept him out of the limelight beyond his own country. He is a pioneer of Japan’s punk cinema – without him it seems unlikely we would have Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo), for example. He also broke against tradition when studying film at university. It used to be one would train in filmmaking, take on junior production roles, and then slowly work up to directing within a strict studio system. Ishii simply begged, borrowed, and stole whatever he needed to make a movie. He shot his early work in the style of his beloved punk music: fast, frantic, and on a makeshift basis.
Dead End Run is a 59-minute portmanteau that consists of three similar sequences. In each, a man is chased down a street until cornered in an alley. In each there is a large element of violence as well, although it plays out differently from sequence to sequence. It is a strange, particularly oblique sort of a film. Indeed, by combining three relatively simplistic variations on a theme, it hardly feels like a proper narrative film at all. It is a diversion with some creative merits, but it is a hard project to enthusiastically recommend. Existing fans of Ishii’s work will likely find it for themselves sooner or later.
In the first chapter, a man (fellow director Yusuke Iseya) runs down an alley to escape his pursuer – only to accidentally murder a woman who was simply passing by. Rather than take her death lying down, she breaks enthusiastically into song. In the second chapter, a hired killer (Masatoshi Nagase) is cornered by a professional rival with explosive results. In the third, starring popular actor Tadanobu Asano, romance blooms between two people during a police chase.
It all reads a bit more exciting than it ever actually gets. While there is a driving energy that pushes the film, with Ishii’s typically use of jump-cuts, chaotic camera work, and a crashing musical soundtrack, no single piece is developed enough to actually mean anything. Very little lingers in the mind. While it is shot and edited for pace, the lack of narrative content means it all simply feels busy. It feels like a technical exercise, and something possibly more enjoyable to have made than it is to sit back and watch.
Dead End Run has clearly been shot cheaply and (presumably) quickly, but when assembled together it simply gives its audience no strong reason to watch. This project really is one for the die-hards and completists.