Saturday, March 17, 2012

Movie Review: Death Trance

First, a warning:  If you prefer movies that have a story with a beginning, middle and conclusion, you may not care for the 2005 Japanese film Death Trance.

If you prefer movies where the characters all have names, you might not like Death Trance, either.

We'd put this movie in our Netflix queue out of curiosity, and the synopsis indicated that it might be a fantasy action-adventure in a historic or semi-historical setting.  It isn't.

Death Trance takes place in a world where monks look after evil artifacts in Buddhist shrines, and warriors roam the landscape carrying both katanas and guns.  Mostly they roam on foot, although a motorcycle did show up in one scene.  Why the world is like this isn't explained.  The combination of anachronistic details and the lack of backstory reminded me of anime.  I don't know if this movie is based on any manga or anime, but it certainly made me feel like I was watching a live-action anime adaptation.

The plot is pretty basic:  Someone has stolen an artifact from a temple, an object that could bring about the end of the world.  A young, inexperienced and under-prepared monk is sent to retrieve it.  That summary probably makes you think you know what to expect from this movie, but you're wrong.  The nameless monk is the POV character, but he isn't the hero.  I'm not sure anyone is a hero in this film.  

The monk doesn't have any trouble tracking down the man who stole the artifact, a character referred to only as "Coffin Man".  None of the other characters have any trouble finding him, either.  They run around the forest in weird costumes, repeatedly trying to take the artifact from him.  Stephen Seagal's son Kentaro shows up as one of the Mad Max-esque characters who want to possess this object, his voice clearly dubbed by someone who sounds tougher (and probably speaks better Japanese).  And a six-year-old girl with almost no dialogue manages to be very creepy.  Nobody wins, or maybe Coffin Man does, depending on your definition of "winning". 

That description makes the movie sound vague and probably not very appealing, but it was actually fun.  It has a sense of humor and doesn't take itself too seriously.  It was clearly done with a small budget because there are hardly any sets, but it doesn't look cheap or tacky.  The fight scenes are exciting, and the enigmatic anti-heroes are cool.  It's a little like a Japanese version of High Plains Drifter.  

While this kind of movie probably isn't for everyone, if you're interested in seeing something fun and a bit unusual, give Death Trance a look.  If you can't take it seriously, you can amuse yourself by making fun of all the 'nameless anti-hero' movie tropes it borrows and turns on their ears.

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