Dead, leaves, the bane of railway operators everywhere and, if I’m correct, Dead Leaves will be the bane of my evening too. Just one look and I’m horrified! Those pictures… that animation… the garish, stylised, almost minimalist artwork with its conscious weirdness and Feng Shui destroying disproportionism that may or may not be due to ineptitude on the part of the animator… This looks like a tasty meal for the geek who’s desperate to be cool and I’ve already decided it’s crap.
But just five minutes in and I realised I was transfixed; over the next five minutes my evaluation rose quickly until it had gone from shit to shit-hot. The story involves sex-diva Pandy (a red circle around one of her eyes makes her look a bit like a panda) and her pal Retro (who has a television for a head) waking up in the middle of nowhere. As they have absolutely no recollection as to how they got there, they just as inexplicably decide to go on a massive crime spree, are caught and are sent to the moon-prison Dead Leaves, a prison where all the inmates wear straightjackets, are moved around on meat-hooks and go to the toilet only when they have a vacuum pipe shoved up their ass. A bout of sex provides a means of escape, releasing from their chains not only Pandy and Retro, but also the rest of the prison population, teaming up with Chinko Drill, some total genetic fuck-up who has a huge, conical drill-bit for a dick. Things get consistently stranger and show no sign of letting up when it turns out that Pandy’s now pregnant and that the evil queen behind this prison is actually Pandy’s sort-of sister, looking for genetic material with which to resurrect her father. Er, do you want me to try and explain further or can I go now?
The, for the most part completely incomprehensible, story has very little bearing on Dead Leaves; it is merely a canvas upon which to showcase the movie’s style, actually moving and changing shape to accommodate the dislocated images thrown in front of the screen. Aesthetics are more important than content here, with loud, bright colours flashing epileptically on-screen like some kaleidoscopic strobe light, the screen irregularly splitting into two, three or more sections as Dead Leaves takes on the appearance of a screwed-up comic strip. Watching the English dub is recommended over watching it subtitled, as it really is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movie. It’s completely psychedelic, appealing to both those veteran casualties whose fried brains still crackle with the undying blue sparks of long-time drug abuse and those young novices looking to develop a habit but can’t quite get their foot in the door. This lunatic surrealism is Dead Leaves’ real strength; the weird contraptions, the weird characters (listed on the credits a Purple Turnip, Curly Haired Freak and Testicle Head – do you get the picture?) and the way everything, no matter what it is, seems to be completely soft and fluid, ready to yield to the manipulative hands of director Imaishi as it races uncontrollably from its pink beginning to its purple end, a flood of pure, unrestrained adrenaline. It’s a scream of simultaneous agony and ecstasy from the most colourful dungeons of the Art House Asylum.
If you can keep up with Dead Leaves for a moment or two then you may be able to appreciate its vulgar sense of humour – in addition to Chinko’s dick, exploding shit-pipes and accidental buggery, there’s also a prison train driver who blows snot bubbles through his nose and an unborn baby who takes up arms to foil his own abortion. Needless to say, the characters continually expound various crude, lewd wisecracks. How’s about, “You’ve gotta rip off her head and piss in her skull!”, or “That this is growing faster than a stiffy on a 14 year old!”? My favourite: I don’t give a fuzzy rat’s rectum about that perverted old freak!
Dead Leaves is so crazy, so chaotic, that it will stand up to being viewed time and time again. Every time you watch it, something new is bound to crop up, something you missed last time you watched it because your mind couldn’t take the rush. The art, which, admittedly, I at first disliked, now seems completely as unique and immediately recognisable as, say, Robert Crumb’s, destined to cultivate a big cult following methinks, and one should not forget the soundtrack, a weird techno effort fitting in perfectly with the on-screen imagery. For me, this has been another crowbar prising apart my (once proud to be) narrow mind. Perhaps you feel prejudiced against it too. I don’t blame you. But if you can find a mere hour between goat-worshipping at the Black Mass and cavorting naked at yet another suburban ether-party, then I’d advise you take a look at this.