PictureDeath Trance drags it's corpse like figure onto Blu-ray with a resolution of 1080p, encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
From the outset it is clear that the intention of those involved has been to aim for something that is highly stylised. The colours are generally muted but occasionally spring to life with intense ferocity. The problem with this is that there seems to be no even nature to the palette. From one shot to the next, shades and colours can vary so wildly that it can seem almost like a separate production. This is particularly notable during the final act where scenes can vacillate between strongly oversaturated shots lit with intense light to moody undercast tones.
The image often has a slight tint to it which also throws off any degree of true consistency as the sepia and greenish hues of woodland moments are jarring compared to the grey blue tones of those moments set amongst feudal looking stone settlements. The contrast attempts at strength but unfortunately leaves some elements of the frame bathed in light almost blooming, whilst others in darkness are mired with a lack of detail. The crushing apparent on some clothing is perhaps the worst of the criticisms as the fabrics show little sign of life and the darkened textures appear more like a vortex of unviewable detail rather than something to behold as an example of high definition footage.
There are moments of great beauty hidden amongst this film's many pictorial flaws but unfortunately it is hard to ignore the flat image that lacks the dimensionality, detail and more sadly the colour stability that we all know the format can offer.
SoundThings are a touch rosier on the audio side of things though as we are given the choice of two lossless tracks. Viewers can either plump for the Japanese or English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mixes. For the purposes of this review I focussed mainly on the Japanese option.
The main selling point for this film was threefold; 1) Tak Sakaguchi, 2) the action director of Versus and 3) a soundtrack by prolific Japanese rocker Dir en grey. The final of these was the offering I was looking forward to the most. All harsh beats and screaming vocals are brought to life in glorious lossless sound on this disc but there is one minor fly in the ointment. The prime necessity for the band's music surely has to be bass and volume, both of which aren't sufficiently produced here. At first it may appear to be the fault of the disc and one might assume it to be lacking in lower frequency grunt on the whole but a quick sonic assault from one of the myriad of fight scenes proves that not to be the case.
Dimensonality and steerage are both well handled, with the action sequences bringing with them the requisite whoosh of figures and objects flying through the air. Punches resonate with a hardy sound upon impact and once firearms are finally unleashed from our hero's arsenal, the volley of lead is satisfyingly crisp and piercing. The dialogue holds well and never seems to fall below the levels of the other channels, staying clear and intelligible throughout yet not pushing beyond the background sound effects or over the score.
Overall this is a decent mix that has generally been well engineered to the film's strengths of all out action. The only drawback is that the music by Dir en grey wasn't prioritised to a greater degree and unleashed to the levels that their unflinchingly aggressive approach deserved.
ExtrasTeaser - 5:40
Actually a five minute promo made long before the production fo the film in order to gain attention and one would assume financial backing for the project. As such this includes many moments unrecognisable from the film though similar in style and the like. Most notable of the changes is the lead character having dreadlocks and some of the fight sequences that could easily have been part of the full production such are their execution. The only drawback is the very minor oddity of the early English translations of certain taglines, with the finished piece bearing the phrase “an unknown time”, this earlier work puts it comically as “not knowing the time” which somehow lacks the same impact.
Making of Death Trance - 10:27
This is actually nothing to do with the making of the final movie, with it instead being a look at the production of the five minute promo made more than a year before which viewers will hopefully have just seen on this disc. It has a commentary by various members of the crew and Sakaguchi himself though it can be a little hard to distinguish who is talking. There isn't a great deal of info given out by those speaking but the footage itself and the banter between them is enough to warrant a watch for any fan.
Behind the action scenes - 14:58
This delves behind the scenes of the various set pieces and the practice that went into the rehearsal of the myriad of moves to be remembered. Understandably Sakaguchi is a fairly prevalent figure given his dominance in such scenes and he is a jovial entity that lightens the mood well with his cocky assuredness. Various martial arts techniques are looked at, including jiu-jitsu, capoiera and a chanbara fight but none are covered in any real detail, with this being more of a peek at actors practice sessions than anything else.
Sakaguchi goes abroad - 10:44
This is basically handheld camcorder footage of Tak Sakaguchi as he travels to Brussel's International Festival of Fantastic Film, to Berlin's Fantasy Film Festival, and finally to San Diego's famed Comic-Con. This was never going to be aimed at giving an insight into the film, but it does allow us to see Takaguchi's reaction to the situations and more of his jovial humour which was certainly welcome.
Character featurettes - 13:07
This is made oup of short interviews with the various actors as the give us their views on Ryuen (Takamsa Suga), Yuuri (Yuuki Takeuchi), Sid (Kentaro Seagal), Goddess (Yoko Fujita) and finally Grave (Tak Sakaguchi). There are a few interesting titbits such as dialects chosen but the main drawback is the minor share of the time given over to analysing Grave as the main character.
Trailers - 13:45
Not for the feature film but rather for more Tokyo Shock horror pieces. They are (in order): The Machine Girl, Tokyo Gore Police, Wicked Lane, Shadow Dead Riot and Flesh For The Beast.
The extras may not seem like a truly wealthy set that would bowl you over but the decent amount of time given over to Sakaguchi coupled with the original five minute promo are more than enough to save this collection from being dismissed out of hand.
VerdictDeath Trance is a film that needs to be prepared for in order for viewers to get the most from the experience - and it certainly is an experience! Yuji Shimomura has crafted what seems to be a live action manga that contains all the oddball characters, mystical prophecy and break neck pacing that goes with the aforementioned medium. That it also contains a plot that explains little and doesn't really need or want to be held to any degree of scrutiny can either be seen as a plus or a minus depending on the viewer's tastes. The action comes thick and fast and there are certainly two characters - Sid and Grave, who deserve their own outings as the 89 minute run time isn't enough to give these memorable creations enough of a story arc. The end result is a fast and furious blitz of zaniness and gothic oddities, all wrapped up with what is sure to be seen as a cult lead character.
The disc itself isn't quite as open to interpretation, with visuals that display none of the hallmarks of a great high definition offering. The colours are instable, the detail lacking and the picture wavers from crisp and clear to an underlit mire all too frequently. The audio raises the action so that it lifts to a certain extent off the screen but it cannot make up for the shortfalls of the image quality. The extras are perhaps best described as charming as they will no doubt be of great interest for fans of Sakaguchi but may not be enough to keep those with less of an admiration for the actor glued to their seats. In total, Tokyo Shock have given us a blessing in some way by delivering such a film to the format in the first place, but have failed to put it on shelves in a manner that would make it unmissable.
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