“Death Tube” is the latest outing from Yôhei Fukuda, a Japanese B-movie director previously responsible for average genre fare such as “Chanbara Beauty” and “Tokyo Gore School”. Released domestically as “X Game”, the film is based upon the popular novel by ‘Real Oni Gokko’ author Yamada Yusuke, and was inspired by the amusingly sadistic punishment games (or ‘batsu games’) which are a staple of Japanese variety shows. Though a fairly low budget production, the film has a hip young cast, headlined by Araki Hirofumi and Kato Sho from idol pop group D-Boys, and Kikuchi Ayaka and Nakagawa Haruka from AKB48.
The plot is pretty high concept, revolving around a website called ‘Death Tube’, which features unfortunate people being put through a series of tasks before invariably being executed for their failure. A new group of seemingly disparate people wake up and find that they’ve been kidnapped and are now contestants on the evil show, facing increasingly cruel survival challenges and being tormented by a mysterious voice and a psycho in an oversized bear costume.
Though the DVD cover art proudly boasts that “Death Tube” is from the ‘producers of the banned Grotesque’, on which Fukuda served as cinematographer, this counts for pretty much nothing, with very little gore or sadism on show. The games themselves are generally tame and lacking in imagination, with only the fact that they result in the death of a contestant giving them any kind of tension. If anything, the film seems to be aiming for a weird, almost humorous approach, which eschews the terrors of “Saw” in favour of slapstick and strange classroom style gags. Whilst this may be in keeping with the ‘Batsu game’ theme and does give the film a vaguely satirical edge, it doesn’t make for much in the way of thrills, and though it has a few decent ideas, the film has very little impact, even as it builds towards its supposedly terrifying conclusion.
Matters are not helped by a running time of nearly 2 hours, resulting in a slow pace and endless scenes of the characters sitting around and talking, none of which helps them much since they all continually refuse to behave in a logical or sensible manner. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if Fukuda didn’t seem to be under the impression that he was delivering something of real significance as opposed to an undemanding slice of genre fun. The film is filled with classical music and odd moments of self importance, leaving the viewer not only bored, but somewhat bemused. As with “Tokyo Gore School”, Fukuda seems to be aiming for a “Battle Royale” feel, though since none of the characters are interesting enough to care about in the least, it all falls rather flat.
Although none of this is really enough to make “Death Tube” a truly bad film, it’s certainly one which is far less clever or entertaining than it seems to think. While Japanese horror enthusiasts should find a few reasonable moments here and there, for the most part the film is simply too long, drawn out and excitement free, making it painful viewing in entirely the wrong way.
Yôhei Fukuda (director) / Mari Asato, Yôichi Minamikawa (screenplay), Yûsuke Yamada (novel “X gêmu”)
CAST: Kazuyuki Aijima