Death Trance (Japan 2005)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/7/21
Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Takamasa Suga, Kentaro Seagal, Yuki Takeuchi

A man named Grave (Tak Sakaguchi) steals a coffin from a heavily guarded temple and begins dragging it to The Forbidden Forest with a mysterious young girl in tow. According to rumors, the coffin has the power to grant wishes, but in reality it contains the Goddess Of Destruction, and unleashing her will bring about the end of the world. Naturally, everyone he runs into wants the coffin for themselves, including a hunter named Sid (Kentaro Seagal, son of Steven Seagal) and a monk named Ryuen (Takamasa Suga), who has been charged with returning the coffin to the temple. But Grave is the most powerful warrior in the land, and nothing will keep him from getting his wish, even if the world is destroyed in the process.

It's a surprisingly good looking and well-made film, and the real draw is Tak Sakaguchi's burning charisma and hard-hitting fighting style. He served as action director on the film, and insisted on full contact fights with his stunt team. Tak's speed, power, and grace are in top form, and by not pulling his punches, his movements are more fluid and natural looking. The results are astonishing and brutal, but still in the realm of cinematic fantasy. The art direction is superb and the film starts out like a period piece, but that illusion is quickly stripped away. It's unclear when and where the story takes place, but it's definitely a fantasy world. Medieval outfits are combined with modern footwear and post-apocalyptic sensibilities. The combat is mostly sword-based, except that Sid carries a modern Colt revolver and also what appears to be a steampunk bazooka. Grave's sword also serves as a double-barreled shotgun with seemingly infinite ammo. There's even one scene that inexplicably involves a motorcycle! It's these little flourishes and surprises that keep the film interesting and the viewer on their toes. Stone statues with moving eyes, trees with human faces, stop-motion dolls, zombies, vampires, giant spider webs, reanimated pigs, and a sword with a throbbing penis for a handle all add to the bizarre and unsettling mayhem of the film. Grave also seems to be cursed with insatiable hunger, which is a running gag throughout the film, although it's never explained. Maybe the mysterious girl is responsible for that. She's never explained, either. Fans of Tak Sakaguchi, martial arts action, and Japanese weirdness will most likely be thrilled.

There's a funny side story about when I bought this DVD. I picked it up at a comic book convention, and the vendor asked me several times if I was sure that I wanted it. It was almost like he didn't want to sell it.

"You know that's not Death Note, right?"
"Uh, yes..."
"And it has nothing to do with Death Note."
"I know that."
"And you still want it?"
"Even though it's not Death Note?"
"Yes. That's why I'm trying to buy it from you..."
"Just don't expect it to be Death Note, because it's not."
"I won't. Now, can I just pay for it and leave?"