Death Trance (2005)
Starring Tak Sakaguchi, Yoko Fujita, Kentaro Seagal
Directed by Yuji Shimomura
Hopefully the first of many Japanese/US teamed productions, Death Trance is a notable, albeit slightly atypical entry for the horror-minded crowd, but don't let that deter you.
Delivering a positively heady conglomeration of genres ranging from post-apocalyptic dark fantasy to sci-fi to samurai action, Death Trance delivers the proverbial bang for the buck and I can't imagine you won't be satisfied with what this picture has to offer.
Growing legions of Asian film fanatics will be pleased to note the return of intrepid action hero Tak Sakaguchi who stars as Grave, a seasoned warrior who manages to heist an allegedly very well guarded coffin from its temple hosts, thus making a legend of himself overnight. The coffin is rumored to grant wishes to those who open it within the Forbidden Forest but the truth is, the coffin houses the body of an imprisoned Goddess, the Goddess of Destruction and if you let her out... well, she destroys everything and with that, the race is on.
Grave automatously makes his way toward the Forbidden Forest fighting just about everyone he meets along the way since they all want a shot at wishes granted, including a wandering fighter Sid (Kentaro Seagal ably following in Dad's footsteps) with Geoff Tate's hair and Rob Halford's personalized rocket launcher and a mysterious woman Yuri, who knows more about Grave and the coffin than the rest of us. Also among the rabble and ruffians fighting over the coffin is Ryuen, a lone monk apprentice sent by the temple master to retrieve the coffin before it can be opened. Equipped with only his knowledge and devotion to saving the world, Ryuen is given one item by his master to aid him on his quest: a freaky, phallic, "You Swiped This Off Urotsukidoji Didn't You?" sword that can only be unsheathed by the "chosen one".
Marking a solid first effort from director Yuji Shimomura, Death Trance is literally one excessive fight scene after another, wrapped up in a well rendered sensibility for apocalyptic chic that effectively enhances the bizarre tone set by the time period and locations. The performances are balanced and Tak Sakaguchi once more defines himself as the antihero's antihero, propelling the focus and flow of the movie through almost non-stop action strung together from place to place to character to character, all to the accompanying tune of raucous heavy metal. I do wish the unique mythology of the film were a little more fleshed out and detailed but amidst all the mayhem there's plenty of dialogue and interludes to sufficiently anchor the pacing and progress the story. In short, it's wicked, kinetic fun!
Nevertheless, a little too much fu isn't always for the best (tends to make you forget what all the ruckus is about) and at times Death Trance does suffer from the sometimes overwhelming action that can't help but detract from the progression of the story. Some of you may find yourselves periodically put off by all the melee.
Fans of Ryuhei Kitamura will also likely note the similarities between Death Trance and Kitamura's wildly popular Versus. From the good vs. evil theme, the awakening of an unlikely hero, and ultra kinetic action not to mention both Shimomura and Sakaguchi were heavily involved in Kitamura's debut (as action director and star respectively). The parallels remain, unintentional or not.
Regardless of nitpickery and comparison, one thing is certain: Death Trance is an outrageous spectacle of unique settings and offbeat characters combined for one hell of an action packed multi-genre entry you won't soon forget.
3 ½ out of 5
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