There’s an awful lot of biffo in ‘Death Trance’, which is to be expected from the Yuki Shimomura, the action director of the barking mad Versus making his directorial debut here.
And that’s pretty much the point of the film — there’s not too much interference from that pesky plot stuff. In fact, at one point, Grave, the vaguely androgynous anti-hero of the film, gets an explanation of back story from Ryuen (Takamasa Suga), the temple monk sent after him to recover the coffin. Grave’s not particularly enigmatic response is to knock him flat to the floor and grumble about the story taking too long.
This certainly sounds like the approach the director decided on after reading the script. Even Tak, in one of the interviews accompanying the movie on DVD, calls the script rubbish and, straight faced, tells us that it was up to his brilliant acting abilities to make the whole thing work.
And whether it does or not really depends on your tolerance for cheerily b-grade flicks. Death Trance, just refuses to take itself too seriously. Set in a world which could either be an alternate reality, or some kind of Mad Max-ish post apocalyptic future, the film throws an endless stream of villains and thugs dressed like extras from a Duran Duran clip from 1982. It is odd just how much New Romanticism has infiltrated fashion and manga in Japan, but this film certainly revels in its influence.
And whereas Mad Max’s leather fetishism made some kind of sense, ‘cos after all it is all diesel and dust, leather and Spartan toughness in that there future, the people who populate Death Trance decorate their faces in ’80s gothic chic. Why is anyone’s guess, but the make up industry of this world must be making a fortune.
Meanwhile, the plot itself functions pretty much as an excuse to get Grave from one bout of fisticuffs to the next. Tak’s Grave is smirking and almost charming: not Oscar material, sure, but I like my anti-heroes to be unapologetically up for it and up for it he certainly is. Grave just lives to find and take on an opponent worthy of him.
It’s hilarious to watch a gang of thugs fearfully discuss Grave’s badass reputation before he appears and then, on his arrival, try and take him on, coming back for more, and more, and, ahhh, more again even though he is beating the living poop out of them. The long fight scenes get a little wearing after a while though, only enlivened by some inventive use of traditional Japanese weapons (katanas that fire off bullets, no less) and some occasionally interesting choreography.
Meanwhile, supporting characters come and go throughout Death Trance with little or no explanation for their motivations. Who is the little girl who follows the coffin around? Who is the woman who takes on Grave and seems to know more about him than he does? Why is Grave always hungry and what is the whole thing about him awakening all about? There’s not much given away, which either shows a longer, sequel filled purpose ahead of us, or laziness on the part of the script writers.
Amongst the cast, perhaps the most likeable is Sid, played by Kentara Seagal, son of Steven, playing a dab secondary anti-hero, hair quiffed up outrageously and wielding guns and missile launchers with no small amount of dexterity. He, too, has a back story only barely hinted at in the closing scenes of the film but it is one that offers up a little more empathy than those of the other characters.
Of course this is a fantasy film, but it is frustrating that it offers no internal logic, as if fantasy means that anything goes and nothing needs to be explained. Nonetheless, though by the standards of, say, Tarantino’s Kill Bill‘s outrageous hyperkineticism, it falls way short , Death Trance is entertaining fun, a rollercoaster that rarely lets up, and maybe, hey, logic would just get in the way of a good punch up. Look out for the sequel that the film suggests is in the offing and here’s hoping that it provides a little more explanation and more viewings of Grave’s magical, phallic, vein-pulsing sword which he grips with disturbing enthusiasm. That’s worth the price of look alone.