Sunday, November 4, 2012
Akumu No Elevator [Elevator Trap] (2009) Movie Review
In a hurry to reach his in-labor wife, young Jun Ogawa(Takumi Saitoh) finds himself knocked unconscious, and suddenly coming to within an elevator, now trapped inside with three uniquely peculiar strangers. One, a down on his luck yakuza(Masaaki Uchino). Another, an elderly man in a track suit(Fuyuki Moto) with a startling secret, and a teenager in gothic lolita garb(Aimi Satsukawa), seemingly ready to end her life. All three incapable of communicating with the outside, their personalities & circumstances clash, with unexpected twists unfolding as noone is what they seem. And all of this, merely prelude. Actor, Keisuke Horibe's directorial debut based on the novel by Hanta Kinoshita is a decidedly mixed affair that reaches impressive highs, and yet finds itself unable to tie matters together in any larger sense.
To be honest, I was ready for an entire film to be confined to this setting. There is enough sense of timing, choreography and performance here that it easily feels labored and well-executed. In many ways, this section alone qualifies as a classically-styled stage play, or short subject. Taken on its own, the entire film comes off like a well-storyboarded spin on flashback-laden tales of confinement ala LOST, with perhaps even a dash of The Breakfast Club. So once things truly get going, and headlong into a second act, there is definitely much more going on that unspools like a macabre game of reverse Mousetrap. Layers of truth slough off here and there, until reality is virtually upended top-down, and themes of living with fictions as justification take over-- even as bodies & revelations begin to pile up.
And while the latter end of this indeed has it's impressive moments of grim humor, a good deal of it feels unclear of what it's in the service of. And this is most likely due to a bookend structure that Horibe unnecessarily grants the piece, a structure that pleads to give it all meaning, but ultimately feels either underwritten, or lacking in clarity. When establishing at frame one as to who the film's true focal point is before the title-based sequence, there is either a need to make this a more prominent emotional core to the film, or else it feels forced, which it ultimately does. While its well and good that a film can attempt to pay tribute to mystery/suspense conventions, whilst nodding at human drama, Kinoshita's script simply finds itself unable to reconcile with all the additional baggage plaguing the opening and ending.
As it stands, Elevator Trap excels best when it's playing on genre expectations, parodying our love of the unexpected, and offering up a surprisingly funny satire of urban Japanese character-types. But when it tries to reach for something closer to the heart, it simply finds itself a little lost.