Running Time: 89'
Tak Sakaguchi, Takamasa Suga, Yoko Fujita, Kentaro Seagal
Story: In an unknown place and unknown time (where ninjas, zombies, motorcycles and rocket launchers co-exist), there is a lone samurai whom the credits label as 'Grave'. His aim is destruction. He's looking for the final battle. For such purposes, he has stolen a mysterious coffin from a temple. It is a powerful object, though few agree on the exact power that resides in it, and some even claim it would unleash destruction upon the Earth if opened. Many people want it. Many people fight to get it. Grave is more than happy to oblige.
Review: ''An unknown time. An unknown place. Without reasons. With no future. His only desire is... Destruction!'' If this braindead tagline speaks to you, you're gonna love the flick. They didn't lie. The time is unknown: just when you think this must be a period piece with ninjas, samurais, ancient temples etc. you get to see heat-seeking missiles and motorcycles. The place is most likely Japan, though it's a Japan you've rarely seen, verging between feudal forests and post-apocalyptic landscapes. The 'without reasons' part of that tag-line is an honest warning not to look for any reason here. Character motivation tends toward zero since more care has been given to their look, the costumes they wear and weaponry they carry than to the 'people' inside the elaborate fancy-wear. 'There is no future' means – there is no end to DEATH TRANCE: what you get is a 'to be continued' coda promising the possibility of the next chapter (which may or may not come). And finally, our protagonist's only desire is – you guessed it! – destruction! Hell, yeah! That's something we can all sympathize with! That's why this flick will be adored by teen boys of all ages.
Our main guy remains nameless throughout the flick, but end credits helpfully announce that he calls himself 'Grave' (since no one else does). He's embodied by Tak Sakaguchi (and I stress 'embodied', for to say 'played by' would imply that there is some acting involved, which would be too far-fetched). Sakaguchi is the action star of VERSUS and BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL, two films which in a manner similar to DEATH TRANCE bent over backwards in order to please the fanboys, dispensing with plot logic and other inconveniencies that stand in the way of outrageous set-pieces. He is a charismatic guy: big, long-haired, with a large sword… he's like a manga character come to life. He's got the looks and he's got the moves. He's most comfortable doing action scenes, and since his no-name 'character' is defined through yearning for destruction (of what? why? aw, forget it!), it comes as a handy excuse for the meat of this film: the fight scenes.
That's where Yuji Shimomura comes into play. He was an action director in Ryuhei Kitamura's VERSUS and ARAGAMI, and in his first film as a director he proves he has a good eye for organizing and framing a fight scene. While VERSUS was a bit repetitive (and, at two hours, a tad overlong), DEATH TRANCE showcases a better sense of timing and variation. Sakaguchi has to fight very different and strikingly colorful opponents, and he's doing it using various weaponry, in different settings, so that you never feel déjà vu. The fights are choreographed well, but are devoid of suspense, since 'Grave' takes very few punches and there is never a real sense of danger or possibility that he could have his ass kicked. He's too cool for that. So, this is basically a ballet film for guys who wouldn't be caught dead watching a real ballet. There's something very gay about all these cute guys, always made up with eyeliners and stuff, carefully dressed and with elaborate hairstyles (just look at that piece on Steven Segal's son: it must've taken a few hours to create that thing on his head, and no matter how much he's punched or thrown around, his hair always stays firm and ready for a photo-shoot). This is a guys' universe with females being either undefined side characters (like a one-dimensional, nameless female fighter, or the two female ninjas) or - Goddesses of Destruction.
Does this mean that DEATH TRANCE is a bad film? Hell, no! If you accept it on its own terms – which boils down to the phrase 'mindless entertainment' – it will deliver exactly that. It is vivid, fine looking, dynamic, original, full of WTF moments, creepy, funny, silly, and essentially puerile in the best sense of the word. Unlike VERSUS, it has very little gore: the fights are almost devoid of red stuff splatter while the 'zombies' that some reviews mention are just some guys in black opera costumes with eye make-up. The flick is a Japanese equivalent of PG-13 rating so it can be freely consumed by under-age viewers. They are, after all, its main audience. Like I said, if you can deal with the silliness promised by its tagline, there's enough to be enjoyed here.
DVD [ NTSC, Region 1 ] : As this is entirely a 'style over substance' kind of flick, it gets an adequate treatment: the image (1.78:1 anamorphic), the colors, the contrasts are as clean and sharp as the wildest fetishists could possibly want them to be, and the same goes for the sound, too. Other than Japanese audio (in 2.0 and 5.1), there is an English dub available (in both 2.0 and 5.1.) for those fanboys unable to read the subtitles. There are not too many extras, the main one being a brief, but entertaining interview with Sakaguchi (in 'Grave' costume: you just won't get to see him in everyday clothes!). Bits of this interview are repeated in the 'making of' segment which is way too short for a film like this. Anyway, since DEATH TRANCE is not something to be thought about or discussed and analyzed, but to be watched and experienced, this DVD dispenses with too much talk or behind the screens and provides the meat (the action in the film itself) in a superb manner.