Seventh Code (2014)

Seventh Code     

Seventh Code Film Poster
Seventh Code Film Poster

Japanese Title:  Seventh Code

Romaji: Sebunsu Kodo

Release Date: January 11th, 2014

Running Time: 60 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Ryohei Suzuki, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Aissy

Website

Kiyoshi Kurosawa at the Rome Film Festival2013 was the year for Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s return to mainstream big-budget filmmaking. He released two films, both star-packed with idols. The first was the big-budget sci-fi film Real, a title that was subject to critically and commercially middling responses. I found it a dull trudge through a slight story with one-note characters played by Takeru Sato and Haruka Ayase. The better received of the two movies, and definitely the most interesting viewing experience, was his latest film Seventh Code which won two awards at the Rome Film Festival for Best director and technical contribution for Koichi Takahashi, the editor. Kurosawa was reportedly very surprised to get them. After watching Seventh Code I can see why.

The true nature of this little thriller is that it is essentially a 60 minute promo (including a music video at the end!) for Atsuko Maeda, a former leader of the J-pop supergroup AKB48, to display her acting. Maeda has picked all sorts of roles that go against the cute idol image she had built with AKB48 by working with a myriad of auteurs on titles that break the idol image. She has been directed by the likes of Hideo Nakata in the J-horror film The Complex, and two dramedies The Drudgery Train and Tamako in Moratorium, both directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita. With Kiyoshi Kurosawa Maeda has met the director whose style can annihilate her cute idol past. I say this because Kurosawa is famed for being a horror auteur with some pretty bone-chilling titles in his filmography and also credited with directing the least sexiest pink film ever (according to Wikipedia it is called College Girl: Shameful Seminar and that film was reworked into the 1985 non-pink film The Excitement of the Do-Re-Mi-Fa Girl). For the first twenty-minutes of Seventh Code this intriguing film looks set to change our perceptions of the girl as Maeda gets swallowed up in Kurosawa’s style and love of a mystery!

Seventh Code Atsuko Maeda After the Drop

Maeda plays a girl named Akiko who has travelled to the Russian port city of Vladivostok to track down a man named Matsunaga (Suzuki), the man she seems convinced is the love of her life based on a brief meeting in Tokyo a month earlier. With no clear idea of where he might be coincidence strikes when he exits a particular green car on his way to a meeting. When Akiko stops Matsunaga he is confused at first then takes her to a restaurant where he claims not to remember her, tells her not to trust anyone in a foreign country and suddenly leaves.

When Akiko tries to find Matsunaga again she is attacked by Russian Seventh Code Atsuko Maeda Tied Upmafia thugs, kidnapped, and thrown into a wasteland with no money except a few coins. She refuses to give up tracing Matsunaga and coincidence strikes again as she stumbles upon a restaurant run by a Japanese man named Saito (Yamamoto) and his Chinese girlfriend (Aissy). From there she begins tracing Matsunaga but will she be able to contest with the dangerous men around him…

Akiko is at first an odd character. With her incessant need to meet mysterious man Matsunaga the film takes on a psychological thriller element as we wonder just why Akiko is blindly following him regardless of the danger, handsome and suave though he is. Is she a tremendous bubblehead and is he worth the risks? Is this the case of love really making people mad? What sort of emotional baggage is she carrying? She’s practically reciting his name like a mantra to get her through her days spent in a horrid Russian city where everyone is a stranger and offers some sort of threat. The film takes all sorts of twists and turns and as it progresses and viewers are teased that there is more to Akiko than just blind love like in the way she gets herself back to the city from the wasteland, her language skills, and the way she is relentless in her task. For the first thirty to forty-minutes there are random and crazy events which may confuse viewers as Akiko discovers secrets in her search but soon things begin to make sense and the story contracts into something more familiar and conventional. To say anything more will be to ruin twists as Maeda steps away from her cute schoolgirl idol image and matures a bit by running through the Kurosawan aesthetics as a character with more than just a pretty smile.

Seventh Code Atsuko Maeda Meets Her Man

Kurosawa, famed for his horror movies which make everywhere in Japan look scary (even the countryside), manages to turn Russia into a decaying corpse. The post Soviet city of Vladivostock is a miserable place filled with a warren of streets which are all a dingy, the walls covered in agit-prop posters, twisted graffiti, and chipped paint and the wan sunlight serves only to illuminate the trash strewnSeventh Code Atsuko Maeda and Waitress along the cobblestones and cast stark shadows across corridors which characters have to brave to get what they want. Even in foreign countries Kurosawa insists on taking his leads to derelict buildings rusting away and overgrown with weeds and populated by people harbouring secret malignant intentions. Outside the city is not much better as mist covers much of the land. The only places of safety are the little café Akiko works in, a pokey and dingy affair with much despair in the air, and the one place of actual comfort is the ramshackle apartment she shares with Aissy, paint peeling from the walls, dust covering every surface except the bed. Meanwhile the mysterious Matsunaga’s apartment, while sumptuously put together with ornate and stylish furniture in a few rooms, is mostly a cavernous building missing much in the way of comfortable friendly colours but having plenty of billowing curtains which take on menacing phantasmic forms.

Atsuko Maeda Seventh Code and Cook Two

All of the characters, as is typical for a Kurosawa film, seem to hold some sort of self-doubt or angst. Two particularly good scenes that mix characters and locations are Maeda’s chase of Matsunaga’s car up a foggy hill and the following sequence when she gets back to the restaurant at night and Aissy is sat at a table obsessively putting sugar into containers and running through her thoughts about her future while a cat stalks around in the shadows in the background.

Amidst all of this madness Maeda, our main character and the star of this promo, strikes a positive note as our little leading lady. Her role could have made a lesser actor stumble by playing things in too Seventh Code Atsuko Maeda Riding Awayartificial a way because the narrative is a rather oblique one (if ultimately slight) but she commits to the role with gusto, speaking Russian with what appears to be ease, running, leaping, and searching for her goal with a strange determination mixed with indecision that hooks audience interest. I don’t think she is a brilliant actress yet. Her performance in The Complex was pretty awful but I feel that was partly down to Hideo Nakata’s direction. With this role and others previously mentioned, she proves there is substance to her. Here’s Atsuko Meada as an adorable AKB48 girl

She seems more mature, harder, and less innocent in films I have watched her in. Rather fittingly, we get a reminder of her past as an idol as she performs in a music video at the end of the film and how much she has progressed as an actress:

If she plays to her strengths like in Tamako in Moratorium and continues to work with interesting auteurs she will continue to grow.

I’m eager to see her in Kabukicho Love Hotel.

I can imagine that people with no interest in J-pop idols or Japanese films will think this a slight film and ultimately pointless but I think this is a fun little thriller and at only sixty minutes it isn’t too big a commitment

3.5/5

My top five Kiyoshi Kurosawa films are:

Cure: The Power of Suggestion

Tokyo Sonata

Licence to Live

Pulse

Sakebi

Check out my biography and filmography of my favourite director!

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9 thoughts on “Seventh Code (2014)

  1. I was patiently waiting for someone to review this film, so thanks for such interesting insights! I have yet to discover the complete filmography of Mr. Kurosawa but I really love Tokyo Sonata!

    I’m heading to your profile of the filmmaker and the top 5 list for more!

    BTW, I also love to see that Kabukicho Love Motel soon, as it stars Shota Sometani as well.

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      It’s a fun little movie and at an hour it’s easy to consume. I like most of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s films but those five are my absolute favourites… maybe throw in Seance as well.

      Kabukicho has been one of the films that has caught my attention this year. Sometani and Maeda acting together, it’ll be great to see. There are a couple of other actors I’m curious about as well.

      1. I’m into some horror movies the past few days. I might be seeing 2 of the movies (Sakebi and Pulse) you’ve mentioned to have a complete enjoyment of the genre! Your reviews of them are the perfect invitation.

      2. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

        I think films like Sakebi and Loft are sort of like his farewells to the horror genre.

        There’s the unofficial apocalypse trilogy – Charisma, Cure and Pulse that many people (including myself) use to enter his oeuvre. You can enter at any point, though, since his movies are all really strong.

  2. Remember the silent movie actresses who lost their careers when the “talkies” came out?

    I’m glad that Atsuko Maeda will not be in that situation. She appears to have made a good transition to actress, although I have not seen a whole movie yet. (Damn Netflix.) I would watch her in anything. I would watch her in a dumb Hollywood comedy even if Seth Rogen were her leading man. I would watch her in a box, with a fox, eating green eggs and ham.

    Maeda’s speaking voice is very different from her singing voice (which was trained very well by the time she graduated AKB48). The first time I heard it in a movie scene I was shocked at how squeaky, high-pitched , and tentative it was. She sings in a deeper voice, or at least with a lot more authority. Maybe it was just nervousness, or making an adjustment to acting, or a bad director.

    One Maeda music video your film noir readers may like is “Flower”. It looks like the MV was taken from a movie, but it is a stand-alone MV. A plug for my post:

    https://dennysinnoh.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/even-m-night-shyamalan-didnt-see-that-one-coming/

    Advice from Mr. Shyamalan would probably be not to put the” twist” ending as the cover of the YouTube video.

    1. I think I’d draw the line at Rogen. Anyone but him and his style of comedy.

      I’m sure those silent movie actresses would say, “We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces!”

      I cannot think of many other idols of her generation who has started carving out a career in acting with as much competence and assurance but I do have my eye on one who has appeared in some indie features in recent years… She’s from a rival idol unit.

      I like the music video and now I’m interested in the film it’s attached to. I was checking it out a few weeks ago after watching Seventh Code

  3. Nice write up! 🙂

    I have to say that Tokyo Sonata and Pulse are the only K. Kurosawa films I have seen and only one of them did anything for me. :-\

    Maeda on the other hand has been making nice and steady progress as an actress. I thought she was the best thing about The Complex, which was a mediocre film at best and she did well in The Drudgery Train (both reviewed on my site 😉 ), so I am keen to see how far she gets before that she delivers that one killer performance.

    1. I was really disappointed by The Complex and I can only think that it was down to poor direction and a tepid script as well as muddled acting.

      That written, I do see improvement in the roles I have seen her in and I hope it continues.

      1. Nakata has sadly lost his touch after the majesty of Ringu and Dark Water. Do we blame Hollywood or complacency on Nakata’s part?

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