Death Trance (2005)
By: Markus Zussner on May 14, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.73:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1, English DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 89 minutes
The Movie
Director: Yuji Shimomura
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Honoka Asada, Yoko Fujita, Ben Hiura, Chuck Johnson, Kentaro Seagal, Takamasa Suga, Osamu Takahashi, Yuki Takeuchi
Screenplay: Seiji Chiba, Shinichi Fujita, Junya Kato, Yuji Shimomura
Music: Rui Ogawa
Tagline: His only desire is destruction.
Country: Japan/USA
The man with no name crosses the barren dusty desert on his horse… oops sorry wrong movie. Let's start again.

A lone Samurai known as 'Grave' (played by Tak Sakaguchi from Versus) attacks a sacred temple, takes on hordes of guards and monks, and steals a sacred coffin said to contain a force that can bring about the end of the world. On leaving the temple he is followed by a small child simply known as 'Girl' (Honoko Asada), the cutest child in a kimono that you are ever likely to see. The child is not really following Grave, but rather goes where the coffin goes. Grave's future is boring and bleak, so bringing on the end of the world should give him some excitement and a good reason to keep on living. Grave is not really interested in killing (just pretend he didn't massacre all the monks at the beginning of the film) - he is primarily interested in the challenge of the fight. Grave is so good at kicking ass that his sword, complete with a rather phallic looking handle, is permanently sheaved when he engages in a fight. Grave goads, antagonises and coerces everyone that he meets into fighting him just for the sake of it. Grave fights with a cold disinterested nonchalance as if fighting was as easy as picking ones nose. He remains undefeated and very, very bored.

Word goes out that the coffin has been stolen and soon the lone samurai is pursued by all who want to get their hands on the coffin for what ever reason. Apprentice Monk, 'Ryuen' played by Takamasa Suga, avoids being slaughtered in the attack on the temple and is given the task of stopping Grave from opening the coffin. This task marks the coming of age for Ryuen. Along the way Ryuen meets up with a motley crew of weirdos whose primary agenda's are securing the coffin at whatever cost. There's leather clad bad attitude 'Sid' played with much humour by Kentaro Seagal, (son of Steven) sporting one helluva bushy Mohawk and carrying an assortment of weapons including a futuristic looking missile launcher with smart rockets; then there's 'Yuri' played by Yuki Takeuchi, a woman incredibly skilled in well, practically everything, who outclasses everyone that she happens to come across.

Ryuen, Sid and Yuri journey through the Western forest desperate to catch up with Grave and the coffin. They battle gangs, peasants, vampires, zombies, and a huge muscleman who carries the largest bread knife in the known universe across his shoulders. The alliances between our main characters are paper thin and constantly change depending on the situation. The end of the world is at hand and agendas could not be more different. Will Ryuen live up to the challenge and stop Grave from opening the coffin and thus destroying the world? Will Grave finally succeed in opening the coffin to relieve his boredom and in doing so change the face of the world forever; or does Sid get his thieving hands on it to steal the knowledge of the coffins power? What does the supernaturalesque Yuri want with the coffin? All these questions and more are answered in the all out explosive action finale of Death Trance.

You like non-stop martial arts action, yes? Ever see Tak Sakaguchi in Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus? You liked it, yes? Then Yuji Shimomura's Death Trance is definitely for you. Full on kung fu martial arts, swordplay and wire combat stunts saturate Death Trance from its quick paced opening to its apocalyptic close. Lead actor Tak Sakaguchi who also has the 'Action Director' credit, gives an outstanding performance as Grave, the lone samurai warrior, and who better to take on the role than a person who can professionally choreograph action scenes. Sakaguchi knows exactly what the camera wants in regard to framing the action sequences and he certainly knows how to look good kicking ass on screen.

The film is set in a mystical forest in a strange land, and in no historical period whatsoever. It can be past present or future. Samurai warriors, peasants and mystical entities fight each other with magic, sword, stick, mud, gun, or rocket launcher, as well as a myriad of other strange devices and weapons. Did I mention the largest bread knife in the universe?

Both Shimomura's Death Trance and Kitamura's Versus have a similar theme running through them, and that is 'kicking ass for 90 minutes in a forest location'. Death Trance is a much slicker piece of work in comparison to the earlier production of Versus.

The gore is non-existent in Death Trance and quite frankly isn't needed as the film focuses on the full-on fighting choreography, action scenes, strange props, weird makeup, and costume design; as opposed to the over the top gore approach of Versus. The costume designs are absolutely breathtaking, from 'Girl's' beautiful little kimono with red bow to the various free flowing costumes that dance around the air like silk streamers in the wind. Costumes flow and take on a life of their own during the fight sequences and wire stunts, juxtaposing a mixture of leather, studs, cotton, satins, silks and cold steel.
We have crystal clear picture, with no grain or distortion whatsoever. There are a lot of nice juicy bright colours complimented by more subtle and darker tones, and the great lighting techniques create some nice shadow effects. The Director of Photography Shinichi Fujita has successfully utilised his cinematography skills to make the forest look like something enchanted and far away, rather than something familiar and unconvincing like the local park in The Woods of Evil.
The Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 track is great. No noise pollution here. Audio hiss or hum is nonexistent. The surround channels are used aggresively with the clanging, clunking and swooshing of swords, the boom of Sid's rocket launcher and crazy sound effects that compliment the wire stunts. Check out the sound that the muscleman's giant bread knife makes when he swings it. It sounds like a tuning fork! Death Trance also has a pulsing metal soundtrack that really fits in well with the action and storyline. Dario Argento, please take note on how to use a metal soundtrack correctly to avoid the same mistake that you made with Opera. Death Trance does it right.

The DVD also has an English 5.1 soundtrack if you can't stand subtitles. I prefer the subtitles. I'd rather listen to the actor's true accent rather than have my ears exposed to a badly dubbed over the top English or American accent. I remember watching Ichi the Killer and I made the mistake of watching it with the English soundtrack. They all had London street accents which was so wrong.
Extra Features
The making of Death Trance - A small concise and brief summary of the making of the film. A nicely shot 8 minute feature but there's nothing here for budding filmmakers or aspiring martial artists. Brief interviews with actors Tak Sakaguchi and Takamasa Suga; also Director Yuji Shimomura.

Interview with Tak Sakaguchi. Duration 14 minutes. His Impression of the script; thoughts of pre-production; thoughts on Director Yuji Shimomura; on Tak Sakaguchi's role as 'Action Director'; thoughts on his character 'Grave'; and a discussion on the innovative action techniques. Now if you are a budding martial artist then this interview with Tak Sakaguchi is pure gold. Here we have footage of his 'Team Zero' action team, the 'zero' standing for no casualties during the film of stunts and fights. Here we have raw footage of some of their fight practices. We get an insight into the innovative action techniques that were developed for the film. One innovation (of sorts) is the use of full contact punches for all the fight sequences. When you see someone punched on the jaw, they are actually taking one on the chin. The innovation is in the full contact fight sequences without causing injury. Only guys with these fighting skills could pull it off. Tak designed and developed special gloves or hand appliances which he wore that helped to minimise any potential injury of the recipient. The Zombie fight sequence had up to 38 different moves and this was the scene that Tak literally had the shit kicked out of him. There were rumours of stunt crew being taken to hospital due to fight injuries, but the truth be known, appendicitis was the culprit not a mismanaged punch.

Stills gallery - 38 stills.

Madman trailers – Aragami, The Myth, Rashomon, and the original trailer for Death Trance.
The Verdict
Action in overtime! Non-stop wall-to-wall kick-ass action from Death Trance's opening, right through to its explosive manga-type ending. Kung-fu action fans, in particular those that like a supernatural tweak to their story, will undoubtedly get a giant wallop out of this movie. What more can be said about Death Trance other than…kick-ass wham, kick-ass bam, Kick-ass thankyou very much maam, slash, spit, chomp, splat, spin, round-house, mantis punch, budda finger, choke, gag, chunk, crunch, crash, bang, swipe, swish, clang, crack, click, budda-budda-budda!! click, reload, budda-budda-budda!! splosh, splosh, splosh, Aaaargh!!! Thud!
Movie Score
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