Dead or Alive was the very first Miike film I watched, it was also the first real Yakuza film I watched. I was expecting something very different at the time, so I remember being quite disappointed. Apart from the beginning and ending, nothing really stood out for me. It's a good thing I revisited the film, so many years (and Miike films) later this was a lot easier to swallow.
The plot is pretty simple. There's a growing feud between a Chinese crime syndicate and a young Yakuza gang, who are fighting over drug territory. The police is having none of it, and they are trying to stop the killing. The result is a very brutal and uncompromising gang war that will spare none of its protagonists.
Dead or Alive really means Aikawa and Takeuchi. They're the stars of these films, and they handle the sudden bouts of weirdness and violence with surprising grace. The start and the finale remain the clear highlight of the film, but in between there's some vintage Miike moments and some pretty cool crime elements. Bold and in your face, Miike was clearly starting to start his voice here.