DVD Review: Death Trance – Looking Back


Directed by: Yuji Shimomura
Produced by: Yoshinori Chiba
Written by: Seiji Chiba, Shinichi Fujita
Music by: Rui Ogawa, Dir en grey
Distributed by : Tokyo Shock
Released: May 12, 2005
Running time: 90 min
Language: Japanese

Review By: Ifakoya English

Oh man I remember this film fondly. Not only for its utter lack of ability to follow the basic story line of the manga, but for its utterly hilarious awfulness.

I actually read the manga after the film so I am a bit disappointed at the loss of the rich characters and story-lines. What we gained in return with this film is an UN-repentantly unfaithful adaptation of a pretty good manga. However, DEATH TRANCE, while horrible, was still injected with enough Japanese oddity that is was capable of sustaining itself and deserving of a full watch. What makes things even more strange is that they were taking this seriously…seriously.

This film  is an old example of “wait this is based on (insert material name here)?!” and honestly one of the best.  And by best? I mean it is absolute garbage! But it is at least typical Japanese “strange” garbage. This film is about as “Death Trance” as the moon is a giant ball of cheese. It follows the adventures of Grave (Sakaguchi, Tak) whom I affectionately call “Two-face” for the simple fact that Tak Sakaguchi is only capable of making two faces. One of mild annoyance or COMPLETE AROUSAL.

Grave is a mysterious man who has stolen a coffin from an equally mysterious temple because it contains the god’s typical version of a joke…the apocalypse. He is followed by an adorable little ball of evil named Girl (Asada, Honoko) whom I assume is based on the same creepy kids from the manga, but cuter. He is also pursued by an extra who clearly kidnapped the camera man and forced the poor soul to focus on him…Ryuen (Suga, Takamasa) who has been sent to get the coffin. They also meet hair that seems to be attached to some human named Sid (Kotaro Seagal) who acts as the hair’s proxy. Hi-jinks ensue.

Death Trance movie 1

Kotaro knows the real main character is the hair.

The motivations for the characters will not be explained, because they don’t actually have any. Except for Sid’s Hair who clearly wants to establish itself as the most powerful warrior in “random forest” and so wants to find and destroy the goddess of destruction so it may prove itself master once and for all. Actually, you won’t even get characters names. You learn who these characters are by process of elimination in association of the character list. In fact, characters appear and vanish in such rapid succession that the audience for this film (myself included) probably all learned to make Tak’s classic “Meh.” Face.

Oh I made this face constantly…after the laughter.

Anyway, these three individuals technically have nothing to do with each other, and really just deal with the coffin that Grave lugs around. By the way, the coffin is stolen from him…constantly.

Really, no one cares up until Kotaro’s Hair, with its godly powers, comes into contact with bandits and pulls out the best weapon for dealing with bandits in the history of ever. The Bazooka! Kotaro’s Hair, Kotaro, Ryuen, and Grave spend much of the movie playing grab-ass with the coffin as they struggle to slowly move through a forest filled with bandits who have motorcycles, gun tonfa, over sized swords, and some token big-buff black guy. Two of these characters actually do manage to kick some ass on the way with Grave’s introduction actually being during a long drawn out fight with desert ninjas,while Kotaro deals with the aforementioned bandits and dispatches them. One of them manages not to kill his opponent which only further solidifies Kotaro’s Hair as the master it is.

When in past-future Japan, make sure to carry your portable bazooka.

Anyway, past-future-postapocalyptic-forest Japan is the stage upon which all these things take place. Well that and the “oh it’s so there” oasis which is basically where the extremely weird, and SYMBOLIC climax (hehe) takes place as characters do things that mean nothing, and proceed to only (unintentionally mind you) make you laugh. It basically all revolves around a penis-sword. A coffin with a hot-chick in it, and Kotaro’s Hair. Oh yeah, I wasn’t kidding about the penis sword. No really….

[It is okay, it wasn't explained in the manga either.]

[It is okay, it wasn’t explained in the manga either.]

All of this leads up to one of the most confusing climaxes ever. OH YEAH! I also forgot to mention there is another participant. Mysterious other hot chick Yuri (Yûki Takeuchi). Now, you would not know her name is Yuri until the end thanks to the process of elimination. She is apparently linked to a vague prophecy that surrounds “The One” and the destruction of mankind. Because. I am actually sure she spends most of this movie weirdly staring at people while displaying her own COMPLETE AROUSAL face. Really, she.. has no reason to be here either, but meh.

Be careful with that mighty blade!

This movie does indeed have a lot of symbolism. Symbolism so subtle that that I am pretty sure you could use it to light a lighthouse. The symbolism comes to a climax at the end, but odds are that your laughing will be so uproarious that you might miss it, and not because you were intentionally ignoring every other rabid piece of exposition like you would the rest of the movie.

The very end of the film is, well…it is what it is. It sets itself up for the sequel of course. Though it has been a while. It is all in good fun thanks to the positively metal soundtrack that plays us off….trying hard to sound over the roars of hilarity.

[Mix of Complete Arousal & Meh.]

Mix of Complete Arousal & Meh.

I actually read “Death Trance” written by Kana Takeuchi, and I have to say it is a pretty nice manga for what it was. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking or spectacular per say, but considering the amount of unholy bile the Samurai vs Evil God genre regurgitates it didn’t totally suck. In fact. It did not suck at all. In fact, I like it more than most. The movie does not do it justice, and in my opinion that is a damn shame since the story would have been nice to see brought to life. Not that it hasn’t already; I am just fine with this particular iteration of it. But this film is almost entirely inaccurate which is weird since Kana Takeuchi is one of the producers. I know it is possible to re-imagine things, but come on! I feel like the film suffered due to its desire to deviate as much as possible from the manga, and really…it did. Big time. This particular fact is both to its detriment and its benefit and it shows clearly.

On a more serious note, I had a hard time understanding this film. People just show up or leave. None of them even give a name WITHIN the film, and I doubt the director expected anyone to know these people considering that pretty much none of them have a previously written appearance in the manga, nor is there any sort of introductory stage in the film. You are just kind of stuck. This creates a hilarious event where one character that is essentially “nameless” will show up out of the deep dark abyss, say something mysterious, and then vanish. Unless you are Sid who does actually make somewhat of a lasting impact by pulling an ancient Japanese BAZOOKA out on a couple bandits. He is also the only one who had any character motivation.

The acting is decent at least. Tak Sakaguchi makes faces of “The fuck you talkin bout?” while Kotaro Seagal seems to be the only person trying to give a performance. The best actor of course is the adorable demon child that follows Grave around. Honoko Asada plays the role of creepy kid perfectly. Seriously, all she does is walk, play with dolls, and giggle. By the way, her character’s name is literally just GIRL.

The actual goddess of destruction played by Yôko Fujita is much older and very hot though not in the film much. The end of this film is weird, I’ll tell you that.

All of the bad elements of this film come together and form a hilarious picture of mediocrity. There was no way to take this film serious considering the copious amounts of mistakes, pauses, inaccuracies and just general disregard for film-making that were made. Even for a 2005 indie room, the camera quality is lackluster, and the handling is mediocre at best. This is made even more obvious during fight scenes set in the random pubs. There are worse out there however, and I’ve seen them. So I give it a pass.

The biggest flaw? Not following the manga.

In the manga there was a colorful cast of characters, people grew, people died, people fought like they were samurai! It is a shame that we don’t get Zen, or the plot of the village. Ryuen doesn’t do any actual chants. The biggest loss of story-line is that of the village leader Ms. Shirayuki.

However, Dir En Grey provided a fairly intense soundtrack which added a bit more life into the film where they needed it and is pretty much the film’s saving grace. The costume designs were utterly fantastic and the movie title Death Trance wins instant points.

Really…it would have been better to just read the manga, or for the author to actually continue it. The movie is hilariously bad and all, but I prefer to see small works get more justice done for them.

Seriously though, where is there a hair groomer in post-apocalyptic future-past Japan?

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