Seventh Code (Sebunsu kodo): Rome Review

A shallow if well-filmed tale about and for teenagers doesn't strain after meaning.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s first film shot outside Japan is an off-beat tale of stalking in Vladivostock.

One of the more trivial entries in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s filmography, which ranges from J-horror classics to black comedy, Seventh Code is a 60-minute shaggy dog story about a pretty girl stalker who runs around Vladivostock in search of a man she met once. It has its funny moments, and a nice final-reel reversal that should hook YA audiences when it plays on Japanese TV, but in Rome competition it looked slight and odd.

The original title Sebunsu kodo would make more sense translated as Seventh Chord, in line with a song sung in MTV-style by protag Akiko (Atsuko Maeda, who played the girl in The Drudgery Train.) We meet Akiko wheeling an unwieldly suitcase down the uneven streets of Vladivostock in hot in pursuit of Mr. Matsunaga (Ryohei Suzuki), a young Tokyo businessman. At first he has trouble remembering who she is, then flashes on a dinner where she was one of a group of girls. Advising her to watch out for foreigners, he gives her the slip but she follows him and, suitcase in tow, climbs in the window of an abandoned building where he’s having a “meeting” in a moment of comic absurdity.

The next thing Akiko knows she’s sewn into a gunny bag by some mafia thugs and dumped far from town. Bruised but not discouraged, she takes a job in a small restaurant run by a sincere young Japanese man and his beautiful Chinese girlfriend. Its panoramic window gives her a good chance of seeing Matsunaga drive by in his distinctive blue car.

The expectation for Kurosawa fans is that the story, teetering between comedy and danger, will take a horrifically bloody turn, but that isn’t exactly what happens. The surprise finale improves things a mite but not really, and in the end the film seems like a TV commission for teenagers. This would explain the simplified ideas about young people in search of a future, running after their dreams and hankering for the power to change the world.

Maeda offers little in the way of psychological depth, so it’s hard to get a handle on Akiko’s obsession with the unremarkable object of her desire. Decidedly missing are the closely observed emotions in Kurosawa’s critically praised festival films, from Tokyo Sonata to his recent made-for-TV serial drama Penance; in fact there is a disturbing shallowness echoed in the acting that tends to deaden the import of even the nicely shot bits. Lighting and framing are elegant throughout, even when the cameraman is racing after Akiko with a handheld DV cam. The serious musical score by Yusuke Hayashi is also a pleasure.

Venue: Rome Film Festival (competition)
Production companies: AKS in association with King Record Co., Nikkatsu Corp., Django Film
Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Ryohei Suzuki, Aissy, Hiroshi Yamamoto
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenwriter: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Director of photography: Shinya Kimura
Production designer: Norifumi Ataka
Editor: Koichi Takahashi

Music: Yusuke Hayashi
Sales Agent: Nikkatsu Corp.
No rating, 60 minutes