2003 film directed by Yudai Yamaguchi
In an Unknown Place and an Unknown Time,
The Goddess of Destruction Lies Trapped in a Sealed coffin.
Confined, she is held at bay from laying waste to the World.
That is until a lone samurai warrior dubbed the "coffin man" (nameless but credited as Grave) comes along. His one thirst is for battle and he is MORE than willing to unleash the Goddess of Destruction from her long imprisonment--to satisfy his appetite for battle.
From the action director of Ryuhei Kitamura's "VERSUS" comes a film that defies logic, time and place. "DEATH TRANCE" (2006) stars Tak Sakaguchi, and if you've seen "Versus" then you know how cool this guy can be when he holds a sword. Tak has made appearances in "Azumi", "Shinobi Heart Under Blade" and even "Tokyo Gore Police", and I bet anyone would be hard-pressed to notice since the man is like a chameleon. Directed by Yuji Shimomura, this film is action-packed and of course, has the elements of mysticism and mystery.
The film's tagline doesn't misdirect: an unknown place and unknown time, without reasons and with no future. We assume that the film takes place in Japan, but it is a Japan that no one has ever seen. This Japan is full of mystical creatures, vampires, fallen angels and food that looks very inedible. The time is definitely undetermined, while the costumes are somewhat inspired by feudal times, it has that futuristic feel. Ninjas are abound, motorcycles, bazookas, guns and katana swords are used but the film looks very ancient with the look of the architecture and its backdrop. The motivations behind our hero's trek to the forbidden forest is one that defies logic; who would want to mess with a Goddess of destruction? The film also has no end, hence the tag "no future". It gives hints that there is no end or maybe there is a sequel in the works, which may be released or not in U.S. shores.
The characters in "Death Trance" will remain enigmatic and nameless (but the end credits reveal their names). Our main anti-hero (Grave, played by Tak Sakaguchi) is a man with no background, although the film's screenplay helps with very minor development. All we know is that he stole a coffin from a temple, so he may bring it to the forbidden forest. (shades of "Versus"?) The film is about destiny and the journey to fulfill it, whether it may mean chaos. Tak is the right man for the role, the film exudes that anime-inspired atmosphere and this man is an anime character come to life. (he is also the only actor who can pull off the "mascara" aside from Johnny Depp) The most mysterious character will have to be the nameless woman (credited as Yuuri, played by Yuhki Takeuchi) who is alluringly attractive. This woman assists in the unraveling of the story, she knows something no one else does and she isn't telling. The questions as to who or what she is will be revealed but it won't be until the final act. Sid (played by Steven Seagal's son, Kentaro Seagal) is the bazooka-toting man who is also after the coffin, and together with Ryuen (Takamasa Suga), who tells the story, provide some added "meat" to the script. Oh, there is a cute little girl (Honoka Asada) who follows the coffin around--and you guessed it, she adds more to the aura of the creepy and the unexplained.
The coffin itself is an enigma--some believe that it can grant your fondest wish, others say it will bring about destruction; but everyone wants it and they all agree that it is an object of power. The antagonists in the film consists of acrobatic vampires, shambling things clad in black, two sword-wielding sisters (Masumi Shirai and Mie Nakao), ninjas, capoeira fighters--plus, there is a freaky looking trio of small dolls that may have come from Japanese lore. The film also has its air of mysticism as there is a sword with a throbbing heartbeat that cannot be unsheathed. Not to worry, it all does come together in the end.
The action sequences are numerous and most of them occur in the forest or in a sandy plain. I've already mentioned that Tak is very entertaining to watch with a sword but here, you get to see him do boxing, kickboxing and even judo. The fight scenes are nicely choreographed and paced, director Shimomura knows his stuff. The story revolves around the fight scenes as different characters want the coffin, and the more Tak fights, the closer we get to the climactic encounter with the severely underdeveloped "Goddess of destruction" (Beauteous Yoko Fujita). The only problem is, the outcome of the initial fights were never in doubt, Tak Sakaguchi is just too cool to be beaten by a bunch of low-life's. The final fight happens in an alternate plane and looks beautiful, but it was a little too short. The action effects consists of spewing dirt, floating rocks that gives more validity to its anime-like feel.
"Death Trance" is a film with a lot of action and style which is its best asset. The plot is definitely too simple and some may question the fact that the film lacks closure--which is also its intention. See it on its terms and you will no doubt be entertained, it may even redefine the term "mindless" fun but it is part of its charm. It is vibrant, nicely shot, original and energetic, it can make you scratch your head because of its subtle humor and outright silliness, occasionally creepy, but definitely PURE and honest in what it wanted to do. If you liked "Versus" then you would no doubt enjoy this film (but it hardly has any blood and gore). As I've said, if you found its tagline appealing then you will appreciate it for its entertainment value.
Recommended! To fans of Japanese cinema [3 ½ Stars]
This Ultimate version from Tokyo Shock has two discs. This anamorphic transfer has a ratio of 1.85 (the previous single disc release is 1.78 ratio) that appeared cleaner, more vivid and sharper than the previous transfer. 5.1 Dolby/2.0 Japanese/English language tracks with great subtitles. Please see this in its original Japanese language.
Disc 1: Making of feature/interview with Tak Sakaguchi/trailers
Disc 2: teasers/ Extended making of features/ Behind the action/effects, international promo tour/character background.
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2003 film directed by Yudai Yamaguchi
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