Pandy and Retro awaken naked on Earth with no recollection of their past. They embark on a devastating crime spree in search of food, clothing and transportation, but are captured by authorities and sent to an infamous lunar penitentiary named Dead Leaves. While incarcerated, they quickly discover that Dead Leaves is also a top-secret cloning facility, occupied by villainous guards and deformed genetic experiments. Ultra-manic chaos and hyper-violent bedlam ensue as they organize a prison break with the aid of their fellow mutant inmates. (Adapted from MAL)
To be honest, I don't think that I've ever seen anything that's quite as crass and full of manic energy as Dead Leaves. In spite of its reputation, South Park knows when it's time to stop the blood, gore, and f-bombs for a few minutes, and even infamously violent anime such as Gantz and Highschool of the Dead have serene moments here and there. Not so Dead Leaves, a 2004 film from Gurren Lagann's Hiroyuki Imaishi that's about as vulgar, gratuitous, and exploitative as anime can get and entirely unapologetic about its own ridiculousness. With virtually no developed characters and an absolutely meaningless story, this movie will neither impress the hippocampi nor generate much in the way of an emotional response, and if you don't enjoy your humor with a hefty helping of innuendo, you might as well stop reading here, as there'll be nothing for you to enjoy. Otherwise, however, I'd recommend giving it a try: if you have the same weakness for dirty jokes and stylized trashiness that I do, you'll enjoy the energetic pace, scatological humor, and flamboyant gun violence while inevitably grimacing from time to time, enjoying the superb animation, laughing every so often at the absurdity, and slowly agreeing with Pandy's own realization that "nothing I see shocks me anymore".
Probably the most distinguishing feature of Dead Leaves is its visual style, which, while not exactly pretty, is absolutely perfect for enlivening the never-ending stream of action, filling the remaining space with gags, and painting this sordid universe in tones that befit the movie's rather nihilistic viewpoint. It's pretty clear to me that the artists who worked on this piece had fun: the best example of the film's visual variety are the prison's mutant inmates, who run the gamut of the alien, the anthropomorphic, the deformed, the grotesque, and the downright weird. The people are all drawn in considerable detail, down to the cracks in their broken teeth, the veins in their eyeballs, and Retro's bizarre television-for-a-head, although the overall feel is rather cartoonish, with the heavily geometric designs being distorted at will and visual representations of verbal exclamations appearing once every minute or so. The animation itself is jerky and permeated with bright flashes, although the one scene that does require consistent animation, the sudden appearance of a "space caterpillar" straight out of an LSD-induced nightmare, is handled well. The voice acting isn't particularly good, but Pandy's femme-fatale timbre suits the exploitative tone well, and making the prisoners all sound like gravel-voiced old men was an amusing choice on the creator's part. I can't really knock points off of Dead Leaves for presentation, certainly: its distorted appearance is well-suited to the hysteria that occurs onscreen, and it's probably the only aspect of the film that really deserves much analysis.
And indeed, Dead Leaves is a mindless movie, one in which the characters themselves make little difference and in which the story proves to be pointless once the visual flair is taken away. It's possible to cheer for Pandy and Retro as they mow down rows of prison guards with machine guns, but aside from a toughness and flamboyance that makes the word "badass" feel rather appropriate, they have relatively little personality on their own, their relationship being limited to head-butting and, at one point in the film, some casual sex. The rest of the characters are either too-evil-to-be-true bad guys, mindless henchmen, or mostly-mindless prisoner sidekicks with similarly low levels of individuality: they serve to move the story along, and since the film indeed moves aplenty (and then some), it's hard to say that they don't do their job. The mindlessness is part of the appeal, really, and while the film is hit by implausibility after implausibility as it moves along, it never pretends to have the slightest fragment of logic in its entire running time. Even considering that, however, the lengths that this film goes to for the sake of its story are mind boggling: don't even get me started on the biological logistics of Pandy and Retro's baby going from conception to birth to old age in a single day and blasting bad guys away during the entirety of his lifespan (doing so even as he first emerges from his mother's vagina). But if the ridiculousness isn't enough for one, there are such sights as one inmate's drill-shaped penis (and his subsequent use of it as a weapon), a prison schedule that involves force-feeding followed by the rather unpleasant sight of forced defecation (though the results are thankfully hidden inside of a tube), and a scene of implicit sex carried out in straight jackets, through the holes used for said defecation. While Dead Leaves does give a limited amount of backstory to its setting (some nonsense about genetic experiments and the prison warden carrying out her father's human-weapons research on the current inmates), it's not a film that at all survives on the strength of it's narrative: it's a display case of sordid visual gags, stylized violence, and jaw-dropping implausibility, and while it doesn't inspire much warmth, it works well for what it is.
Dead Leaves is a movie that many will find tasteless, offensive, and, if the flamboyance and stylization doesn't impress, even boring, and it will offer absolutely nothing for you if you have no love for the vulgar side of entertainment. That said, it's the right sort of movie for those seeking a dose of toilet humor and cheap thrills, and if you're going to indulge in trashiness, you might as well indulge in the trash that offers the best visual flair on the side. All I can say is that I don't regret watching this movie, but it'll be a while before I seek anything this crass again: I think that I may have seen enough forced defecation to last me a lifetime.
Knock two stars off if you can't stand gross-out humor. If that's the case, this movie just isn't for you. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: Oh lordy, where should I even start? We've got: implicit sex, nudity, pedophilia, fanservice, stylized violence, force-feeding, forced defecation, stylized dismemberment, a drill-shaped penis, said penis being used as a weapon, profanity, and a dose more of stylized violence that will make this inappropriate for all but the least squeamish of us. At least there's nothing that would classify it as porn: the aforementioned penis resembles an actual drill enough to be left uncensored.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Dead Leaves © 2004 Production I.G.
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