Monday, September 19, 2011

Death Tube (2010)

Make way You Tube!

Other films from Japan such as "Suicide Club" and "Battle Royale" dealt with questions about death and how social pressure can come into play about how we view the end-all. "Death Tube" doesn't carry such an ulterior motive as, say, the western made anti-thriller "Funny Games" because in one sense it can still be viewed as a cinematic snuff/torture film that delivers human suffering on a tasty platter. Then on the other, there's a certain kind of fear with a message or a warning, if you will, buried underneath for the person who has a little more hope for the human race. Since it's straddling the line, it neither delivers in an overly gory manner (even though this has some the same makers as "Grotesque") nor in an intellectually profound way. It's a low-budget film with its shortcomings, stretched scenes and overly dramatic performances with characters that have little relating points, which limits either side from being truly effective as its predecessors with a proclamation.

Enter "Death Tube": an Internet show that broadcasts murders a few times a year for only a week to select audiences. On this particular episode a man named Inoue is sent a link to the site from a friend, not believing it's real since the video quality looks at times sketchy and the acting questionable, until he wakes up in the same room that he watched a man pleading for his life in earlier. If it's not happening to you at first, then there's no reason to care, right? Reminded me of a 2008 case in Florida with a live suicide involving a late teen. If you already guessed that this is a Japanese offshoot of "Saw," you wouldn't be too far off the mark. Instead of a doll with a tricycle that speaks, you get a yellow bear with a top hat and mustache called Ponkichi. It turns out there are seven others in the same dire straits as Inoue in different rooms that can speak to each other through a laptop. The victims have to go through a series of random objectives or simply they die. The viewers can help if they want to but just type messages egging everything on.

This first challenge is to put together a Rubik's Cube with a phrase they must abide by. Seven are left when Ponkichi gives them seven tasks that one person has to complete in each hour. If one fails at a task they might die at the end. Though if they collectively complete a total of four tasks then they are all safe. Soon enough they find that this was just one game among many that involve different inescapable rooms, puzzles and trivial objectives to get through to the end that pits each person against one another but at the same time has positive mottos hanging on banners that they should stick together. It essentially plays on their emotions as if they're going to make it or not or force them into decisions for the audience's entertainment. Ponkichi goes from being displayed on a small television to being a person dressed in a bear suit like a mascot with little signature moves and dances but in one hand a deadly gun to take out anyone who loses or doesn't follow the rules.

"Death Tube" has a fairly low budget, so there's going to be less on picture quality and production costs, such as poor lighting set-ups and effects, and there's often misplaced music in the background to what's actually going on. Those production pitfalls aren't the main issues as it's not always so distracting to keep one from following what's going on. The tone itself feels all over the place when trying to take the story into different routes over the course of an extended two hour run time that should have been shortened up. At one point it tries to be horrific, then a spoof, then fun as well as dramatic and heartfelt. The issue is it doesn't properly connect all of them together since it frequently misses on its timing with anticipation, suspense and even an attempt at black humor. It's like they had some of the right ideas in the direct moment of filming a scene, but when putting it all together it doesn't always flow as one centrally driving piece where the subtext gives you something more to contemplate on as it goes.

Even with all of the desperation and violence (more on blood spray and suggestion than gore) that ensues, it's not able to maintain a steady amount of intrigue as a result despite what looks like an original idea. The motivations of the actors and their emotions are often over-emphasized to nail the point home. In one sense there's no miscommunication of what feelings are projected, but it can also make a lackluster scene more dressed up when the character goes well over what was called for. It makes a share of this feel unnatural and forced rather than more involved. After throwing all of the characters through the wash so to speak, not to mention the perplexed audience along with them for what's actually going on, you eventually get to the long overdue end result and see the message of the exercise that by that point lost its impact.

Rating: 3.5/10

Link: IMDB ?

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