After watching Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s recent film “Real”, I was inspired to do a Kurosawa double feature and decided to watch his other new film from 2013, the crazy “Seventh Code”. While the film is no doubt a minor entry in the canon of this talented filmmaker (mainly due to its limited running time), it is also when of his most straight out entertaining.
“Seventh Code” is about a young woman named Akiko, who leaves Japan and heads to Vladivostok, Russia in an attempt to track down a Japanese man she had a drunken dinner date with one month prior. It soon becomes apparent that the man, Mr. Matsunaga, may have dealings with the Russian mafia but this doesn’t deter Akiko, who ends up getting kidnapped by the mafia after following Matsunaga to one of his “meetings”. She is tied in a potato sacked and dumped on the outskirts of town, her passport and belongings stolen. Having nothing to her name, she begs the owner of a Japanese restaurant to let her work there due to the fact that the shop has a large window looking out to the busy street. Akiko assumes that Matsunaga will have to pass the window at some stage and her quest can then begin anew.
This is such a crazy film from Kurosawa and I have no idea how this film got made. It is unlike any other film, particularly due to the fact that it only runs for sixty minutes. Yet in those sixty minutes so much happens to the point that “Seventh Code” felt like one of those old serials, where something big happened every ten or so minutes to conclude that episode on. The same happens here, with the film twisting and turning every ten minutes and just when you think you have a handle on exactly what is happening, it changes again. It almost felt like Kiyoshi Kurosawa had a list of things he wanted to put into a movie, and he just went down that list and did each one. It sounds like chaos but it actually makes the film a lot of fun. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously which is a huge plus; it is made only to entertain. Kurosawa has stated that he made the film because he wanted to showcase all of Atsuko Maeda’s (his main actress) skills. In that way, he certainly succeeds because she is given plenty to do in the film besides just emote.
Like normal for a Kurosawa film, his visual style stands out beautifully in “Seventh Code”. I really love the way he uses space and geography in his films, and how he lets his characters inhabit them. He is a master at using very wide angled images, with the action happening within them dwarfed by their environment. An example of this is when Akiko is dumped from the truck in the potato sack. He shots the scene from such a distance, that it is hard to determine exactly what has happened at the start, but we are also witness to the cold and desolate environment where everything is happening. It just gives the film a sense of place and space. When shooting interiors, Kurosawa always surprises with interesting camera angles and moves and his design team have done a stunning job of creating and dressing the locations. The visual highlight of the film though is Mr. Matsunaga’s apartment with its billowing orange curtains blowing in the breeze.
One of the joys of “Seventh Code” has to be the film’s inventiveness. Kurosawa turns the ruins of an old Russian factory and treats it like it is a high security facility for the mafia, and all this is done via a keypad on a door-less entry of a building and a few sound effects. It is genius actually, and I cannot think of anyone else who would have the balls to pull off such a trick, but you actually believe that no-one could get through that doorway without putting in the right code. For pure inventiveness though you only have to look at the insane storyline which starts with what appears to be a woman searching for the love of her life and ends up becoming about a spy trying to track down a nuclear weapon so it can be destroyed before being used for evil. Amusingly Kurosawa has also proudly stated that “Seventh Code” is his first action film, which may be a stretch as there is really only one scene of action in the entire film, although it is handled with aplomb and is quite the surprise.
As I said, Kurosawa made “Seventh Code” to show off the skills of Atsuko Maeda and she is absolutely adorable in the film. She impressively speaks both Japanese and Russian in the film and even gets to kick a bit of arse towards the finale. Performance wise she is excellent and fluid, changing her character with the beats of the film as it changes also. While I am not sure about the music video style finale of the film (Maeda is also a singer, apparently), the film’s actual finale that plays over the song is very funny mainly due to the final cheeky look Maeda gives to the camera. Also the last explosion in the film is very Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The other characters and actors have less to do but all do so with style but I must point out the gorgeous Chinese actress Aissy who plays a co-worker of Akiko’s from the restaurant. She is just stunningly beautiful.
Overall, I thought this odd entry in Kurosawa’s filmography was just a blast. “Seventh Code” only runs an hour and as such is entertaining its entire running time. The film is full of twist and turns keeping audiences on their toes, but it is nothing to take seriously and the film knows it. While a silly little time waster, it does have a few messages; firstly an anti-nuclear one, and also the fact that I think Kurosawa believes that youngsters should stand up for what they believe in and attempt to get the power they need to change their world. The only thing I do not understand is why the film is called “Seventh Code”. This is minor Kurosawa but bloody entertaining Kurosawa.