Rated: N/A :: Released: 17 January 2004
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi :: Starring: Jaxon Lee, Amanda Winn-Lee, Chad Fifer and Jason C. Miller
By Preston Nelson
27 November 2008 — The screen opens and we're treated to two naked people, explosions, a carjacking and a joke about a heliotrope — and we're only 90 seconds in. Yes, indeed! Today, we're going to attempt to look at, quantify and review the single most insane piece of animation most people will ever lay eyes on: Dead Leaves. Hold on tight, 'cause this is going to get twisted.
Before I get too into it, let me explain just how I stumbled across this film. It was about 12:30 in the morning, almost a year ago, and I'm parked on the couch, channel surfing. I flip across the Sci Fi channel on their Ani-Monday, and being the utter slave to animation that I am, upon seeing the explosion of color and shape that burst forth from my TV, I stopped. I came into it about halfway through and knew that I had to see it again, complete, because what I saw made no sense.
Well, now I've seen it all, and it still makes no sense. But a good kind of "no sense," like if naked women fell from the sky, firing candy from bazookas. You don't ask why; it's just awesome. And in a nutshell, that's Dead Leaves. It's senselessly violent, rude, crude and a feast for the eyes. It's like nothing you've seen and like nothing you'll ever see again.
It opens, as I've mentioned, with two very naked characters sitting on the bare ground. The man, who has a television for a head, remarks to the woman that the spot over her eye makes her look like a panda. Her reply is that the "Retro TV" on his head makes him "look like an asshole." Seconds later, Pandy and Retro, as they've dubbed themselves, are on a whirlwind crime spree, firing more bullets than were spent during both World Wars combined. They fight policemen, robots, civilians and the laws of physics. Of course, they're caught and sent to the DL Corrections Facility on the moon. This facility is filled with "mutated genetic filth," like our protagonists, all of whom are wrapped up in full-body straightjackets, giving them the look of a cocoon
Here they meet the only three secondary characters that actually come to matter: Triple Six and Triple Seven (their psychotic, violent guards), and Chinko Drill (a fellow prisoner with a giant drill for a penis). While cocooned, Retro and Pandy have sex, which somehow releases them from their bonds. Then they free everyone else, mounting a massive prison break.
At this point, all hell breaks loose.
If I tried to explain the sheer insanity of the next sequence, my eyes would explode, my fingers would fly off and I'd end up a broken mass, sobbing in the corner. The prison break results in the most insane action sequences I've ever seen. This makes the opening look tame, by comparison. Bullets fly, guards die and the Drill-Phallused Chinko Drill comes into play as a weapon more than once. The heroes then steal a motorcycle, and use Chinko Drill's very special appendage to drill through an air vent, into the prison's armory.
Just what the movie needed. More guns.
Now, armed to the teeth, the horde of escaping miscreants manage to hijack the prison's subway system. (I don't know why a moon-based prison has a subway, but, honestly, if this is where your suspension of disbelief falls apart, I'm impressed it lasted this long.) While on the subway, Pandy gets violently ill, and it's revealed that her tryst with Retro has resulted in a pregnancy, exacerbated by the fact that the mutant gene cluster is making the baby grow at a rapid rate. Of course, at this point, Triple Six and Triple Seven attack the subway and we get two more fight scenes: Pandy takes on Triple Six, while Retro and Chinko Drill double-team Triple Seven. Our heroes emerge victorious, though they sustain the loss of Chinko, who dies when he tries to drill Triple Seven in the neck.
Retro and Pandy (now obviously pregnant) reunite, and find themselves facing down the Warden. At this point, the film does something it really sucks at: it tries to insert a plot. You see, eight years ago, Retro and Pandy worked for the original Warden (this warden's father). And they're responsible for most of these genetic experiments, including Triple Six and Triple Seven. Something went horribly wrong, the original Warden was killed and Pandy and Retro skipped out, opting to be frozen cryogenically for eight years, before crashing back to Earth — or something. Of course, the daughter of the original Warden becomes the new warden, and turns herself into a cyborg in order to take her revenge on Pandy. And this is the only place that the film drags. The frantic pace dies down for only a couple of minutes, but compared to the insanity up 'til this point, it stands out.
Well, Pandy doesn't actually care. She attempts to walk out, but the Warden grabs Retro and beheads him, throwing Pandy into a rage. They brawl, and the Warden takes the upper hand, until she's mysteriously shot in the stomach.
By a pistol.
Sticking out of Pandy's panties.
And at this point, the entire audience has some sort of hemorrhage from the sheer awesome. The baby (who has a pair of speakers for ears) births itself, and floats through the air while dual-wielding pistols. The Warden turns into some kind of giant space caterpillar, and Retro (who is still alive) throws his human body into a sack, before attaching his monitor-head to a robotic body. Pandy, Retro and the baby (who has aged into a young adult) pursue, but are unable to stop the giant space caterpillar / Warden. So the baby, who's now an old man, flies into its mouth and blows it up. Pandy and Retro steal an escape pod, and the movie ends.
Now, I understand that you're likely scratching your head, convinced that I left out some intricate plot point. I promise you, this is not the case. As a matter of fact, the "What the hell was that?" factor is part of the film's appeal. It fits the entire aesthetic, what with this film being a 45-minute drug trip. And while the plot might not be there, the writing actually isn't bad. As a matter of fact, it's pretty damn funny. Retro and Chinko Drill have the bulk of the one-liners, but Pandy gets her fair share of dry wit. And Triple Seven even has a few memorable lines. Of course, anything resembling exposition feels just as forced as the plot, so it's not all gold.
This film is painfully stylish. I've heard a rumor that one of the original purposes of Dead Leaves was to be played in the background of raves or in clubs. And honestly, I'd believe it. We're talking about the most frantic animation I've ever seen. Rarely, there are less than 20 figures on screen, all bouncing and fighting with explosions, sex and colors going on around them. The entire film has a background of cool blues and greens, contrasting the reds and browns used for the majority of the characters — notable exceptions being Retro and Triple Seven. And, of course, Retro and Triple Seven have a showdown in a warm-colored room. This film may not have much in the way of plot, but good god, they understand visuals! And in the end, those visuals are all that matter. Dead Leaves has its flaws, but they don't seem to matter, because this movie has so much more to offer than that. It's the most frantic, visually stimulating experience I've ever seen. It's utter insanity, and I'm in love with it. It's not perfect, but it's worth the trip.