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Original Title:
Death Trance

Japan 2005

Fantasy, Action

Yuji Shimomura

Tak Sakaguchi
Takamasa Suga
Kentaro Seagal
Yuki Takeuchi
Yoko Fujita

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Death Trance

Story: The fighter Grave (Tak Sakaguchi) invades a temple, kills nearly any of the present priests and steals a coffin. It is said that the one in possession of it is granted any wish. But for this Grave first has to take the coffin into the eastern parts of a mysterious forest. He is secretly followed by an odd little girl. But Grave also gets company from other individuals, who are all eager to take his treasure from him. One of them is Sid (Kentaro Seagal), who soon teams up with the only survivor of the temple the coffin was stolen from, monk Ryuen (Takamasa Suga). Again and again Grave has to face the most odd creatures and characters in several fights, and during his travel the coffin is stolen from him on more than one occasion. At one time it is Sid who gets his hands on the casket and another time it is an unknown person, the mysterious girl Yuri (Yuki Takeuchi).
The only ones to know the truth about the coffin seem to be Yuri and the monk: Inside the coffin resides the "Goddess of Destruction". If Grave would awaken her, it would mean the destruction of the world...

Review: Yuji Shimomura has been responsible for the fight sequences in the absolutely overrated "Versus" and now tries his luck as a director. If he proves one thing then it is that he is good at copying from Ryuhei Kitamura. The pictures are very nice to look at and moreover are very stylish. But this all doesn't matter as "Death Trance" turns out as a mindless, yes I should even say stupid action flick. Story? What's that? The plot summary above actually is a detailed retelling of all the events in the movie. In fact, the film is mostly composed of several fights. To give the director some credit, this is also the reason why the movie never gets boring, but the fast pacing that gets even more accelerated throughout the film, can't hide the fact that the end product is incredibly shallow and without any substance at all.

Being screened at the local "Fantasy Filmfest" here in Germany with the adding "Versus 2" in the title, the audience may have expected something else. Of course, "Death Trance" has nothing to do with Kitamura's work, yet there are some parallels to be found. For once there is the setting. Again it all takes place in a forest. Which is also one of the big sore points. If some film students and martial arts fans meet in a forest to shoot a no-budget film, then this is ok. But why do professional filmmakers have to struggle with this issue? Was there really no money for a more inventive setting?
Fortunately, the movie provides us with the same speed and vitality as "Versus" - nonstop action without any reason or brain. You can almost feel the energy that permeates the screen. However, the always present wanne-be coolness factor soon becomes tedious.

Since there is almost nothing else, let's just get to the action, respectively the fights. That's not only what Shimomura might have thought when shooting his film, but I will do so in my review, too. And there is not much to criticize here. According to the credits Tak Sakaguchi himself was responsible for the choreography, yet many of the stuff we get to see looks as if the director also had some words to say. That is because concerning the style the fights differ only slightly of what we got to see in "Versus". Most of the time Tak Sakaguchi fights his way through his enemies preferably with incredibly fast punches, and for the sake of change he also has a sword in his hands every now and then. Even though it remains in its sheet until the finale.
Apart from that the fights don't stand out with anything particular. They are straightforward and in-your-face style, making them lack esthetics. You could say that it's just one hell of a punchfest. There are some exceptions, of course. For once, there are the Capoeira fighters or the gunblades. Latter ones should at least be well known to "Final Fantasy" lovers. Only because of these few aspects the movie doesn't deserve any originality points, but it definitely is more appealing than the rest.
At the bottome line it's like this: The fights have the right pacing and the hammering metal-soundtrack in the background additionally provides the necessary amount of adrenalin, yet the battles just lack an inventive choreography.

Should I really even try to go into details about the acting achievements? Whatever, any movie should get the same treat, so let's go... Well, actually there really isn't much to say. Tak Sakaguchi ("Versus", "Shinobi") tries to be cool in a subtle way and he even succeeds most of the time. He doesn't play an actual character, he lacks any background, and only the movie's humor, for instance his constantly growling stomach, give him a bit of humanness. The rest of the cast delivers an equally low performance. What do you expect? After all the script just doesn't provide anything to work with!
Takamasa Suga, being the monk, at times looks as if he is trying to play a character, but the real surprise is the effort of Kentaro Seagal as Sid. It's not anything special, really, yet he actually manages to believably insure us that acting-wise he has a lot more to offer than his father Steven Seagal.

Still, there are also some positive sides. For once, there is the cinematography. Many of the pictures are just very well depicted. The forest is packed with nice details and is very appealing thanks to its atmosphere. Apart from that, there are some very inventive costumes, but more than that, weapons to marvel at. Moreover, you also shouldn't be bothered by the fact that there are suddenly a rocket launcher and a bicycle finding their way into this fantasy-flick. You should keep in mind that this movie just takes place in a very different world...
On the other side, it's unfortunate that some of the cool looking characters suddenly seem to serve no purpose at all except to enter the scene for a few minutes and then just vanish. What's about the twin women or what place takes the little girl in the story, that over and over again eats up all the food that our poor hero is working so hard for? But since the film doesn't even take the trouble to explain the background or motives of the main protagonists, how could we expect the filmmakers to shed some light on these small aspects?

Luckily, the movie can arouse some excitement during the last few minutes. Grave is battling the "Goddess of Destruction" in a space (?) in which gravity is canceled, which means that the blood spilling out of Grave's body is dancing through the room as the flower blossoms coming out of his enemy's body are. There is definitely some sort of poetry to be found in these pictures. It's just questionable what the slightly erotic touch in this duel is supposed to mean. You just have to take a closer look at the sword handles. Grave's pulsating hilt and the oval cleft in his female opponent's sword handle, as well as the moaning of her when being hit, just leave one possible interpretation open, even for a non-Freudian. But what exactly is this all about?
Nevertheless, with the path the movie paves for a possible sequel, the director can make up for some of the more serious flaws of the movie. However, there are just too much sore points to outweigh them all with some good ideas. Nearly, every No/-Low-Budget cliché is made use of. The lonesome hero, who somewhere along the way has to find out that he is the chosen one, a sword that just happens to be proof of that very fact and can only be drawn by the chosen one, natch, are actually some of the more original elements of the film...

"Death Trance" is by far no movie you have to see. Yuji Shimomura knows how to keep things going, delivering a good pacing and presenting almost nonstop action, his pictures can be eyecandy, too, but the nonexistent story, shallow characters and the ridiculous dialogues will make you groan in pain at times. Without a doubt, the film offers some nice humor and the director even seemed to be aware of the fact that his script was very thin, which is reflected in Grave's favorite line "Shut up!", whenever someone is trying to go more into story details. Still, this little trick doesn't work as good as it may have been intended. "Death Trance" is only of interest for those who are able to watch a movie without a story every now and then. Fast-paced action isn't something you'll miss here and so it's also almost impossible to get bored by this flick, as far as you don't expect something meaningful behind all this nonsense.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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