If you happen to be one of the few people desperately trying to piece together the plot of Yuji Shimomura’s “Death Trance”, let me lend you a hand: Guy steals coffin because he’s a dick and he likes to fight; this guy is chased by another guy played by Steven Seagal’s son who wants the coffin because he’s told it can grant wishes; a monk is also after the coffin because it was stolen from his temple; a chick with black mascara is helping the monk along for reasons unknown; and finally, the Goddess of Destruction is waiting to wake up once the coffin is opened so she can Destroy the world and some such. They meet, fight each other, fight other people, and finally, coffin guy and the Goddess of Destruction fight. And oh yeah, there’s a creepy kid with a creepy laugh that goes wherever the coffin goes. One presumes she’s the Goddess of Destruction in child form, but I wouldn’t put money on it.
That really is the full extent of “Death Trance’s” story, or what passes for story. The entire film is little more than an excuse for star and co-action director Tak Sakaguchi, who rose to fame as the convict/hero of Ryuhei Kitamura’s low-budget horror/Samurai/action epic “Versus”, to show what he’s learned since those years under Kitamura’s tutelage. Director Yuji Shimomura, himself a former Kitamura apprentice, also gets to show off an eye for “cool”, using a script built on a foundation of, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if this guy did this, and this guy did that, and we saw this really cool thing?” That basically sums up your movie right there.
Mind you, not that such mind popcorn is not appreciated. At its basest level, “Death Trance” is 90 minutes of pointless entertainment, even if all the fighting starts to get a little repetitive after the 3rd scene of Grave (Sakaguchi) brutally punching the Bejesus out of an army of thieves, toughs, and finally, what appears to be black cloaked trolls from the “Phantasm” movies. Joining in on the fun is Kentaro Seagal, son of Steven, who does an admirable job playing a background character that helps to break out the monotony of star Sakaguchi smirking for the camera and, well, beating up an endless gaggle of faceless guys.
Every now and then “Death Trance” remembers that it is supposed to be a movie with a story, which is when Ryuen the monk (Takamsa Suga) interjects with his story of the Goddess of Destruction and how she will return to wrought vengeance upon the world if someone opens that mysterious coffin everyone is dragging around by chains (no, seriously, they drag the coffin around on chains throughout the movie). After what seems like 80 minutes of one action scene repeated over and over, we finally get to the battle we’ve all been waiting for — Grave versus the Goddess of Destruction herself, played by the gorgeous Yoko Fujita, who alas, doesn’t spend nearly enough time onscreen.
The best you can say about “Death Trance” is that, unlike Shimomura and Sakaguchi’s old buddy Kitamura, their film doesn’t last more than 90 minutes. (For the uninitiated, Ryuhei Kitamura has a very bad habit of dragging a one hour movie into two hours.) The film certainly moves well enough, and whenever Ryuen starts to talk too much about the film’s plot, someone punches his lights out. Needless to say, you don’t want this monk on your side when you’re trying to save the Earth from being destroyed by a very hot, but dangerous Goddess of Destruction.
Nobody will mistake the action in “Death Trance” for anything other than elaborately choreograph stunts. Sakaguchi punches and kicks his way through an endless sea of punching bags, with Seagal only getting one real chance to shine. Another character named Yuri (Yuki Taekuchi) also has little to do, and I wished she had taken up more of the screentime reserved for our leading man. Without belaboring the point, way too much time is spent unnecessarily with Grave doing little more than walking around with his coffin and occasionally breaking the monotony by beating people up in a series of lengthy fisticuffs that seems to go on and on and on…
But of course I am not taking “Death Trance” seriously, because the filmmakers are playing everything for a chuckle. This is made abundantly clear when Sid breaks out a bazooka that fires a heat-seeking missile. Later, another superfluous gag elicits a mild tingle of amusement from the audience when Grave reveals the true nature of his sword, which he has never unsheathed until toward the end. The words “superfluous gag” describes “Death Trance” perfectly. For a 90-minute film, it doesn’t have nearly enough originality to fill its running time, but one has to give it credit for trying mightily to make up for everything it lacks with what seems like neverending enthusiasm. It’s just too bad the fights are so pointless and goes on for so long…
YÃ»ji Shimomura (director) / Seiji Chiba, Shinichi Fujita, Junya Kato, YÃ»ji Shimomura (screenplay)
CAST: Yoko Fujita …. Goddess of Destruction
Tak Sakaguchi …. Grave/Coffin Man
Kentaro Seagal …. Sid
Takamasa Suga …. Ryuen
YÃ»ki Takeuchi …. Yuri