A darkly humorous tale of 'cruel and unusual' tasks undertaken for a web channel, all at the behest of a cruel anime critter? - Welcome to Death Tube, and, dare I say it, here's one that could only have been made in Japan!

We all know there are adult rip-offs of the YouTube imprint, right? Well, this film looks at the potential for a brutal rather than sexual equivalent - the 'Death Tube' of the title - but rather than have it merely carry pre-recorded video clips, this version live streams death scenes for a voracious audience of ghouls. The first scenes of this film are grisly indeed and have echoes of Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh and Blood (as well as the infamous Grotesque, the cinematographer of which, Yôhei Fukuda, is the director of Death Tube). We then find that we are watching this channel alongside our protagonist here, a young man named Inoue. Like us he's drawn in by the premise of ostensibly real people performing tasks in order to try and save their lives. And like us, he's suspicious that it's faked, and soon loses interest, returning to the side of his fiancée Tomoe. The next thing we know, Inoue himself wakes up in one of the Death Tube rooms. He doesn't know how he got there, but after communicating with other captives via a laptop in the room, it seems they at least have recent viewings of this channel in common. Inoue has to complete a puzzle - or die.

If this is a Japanese take on the Saw franchise then it speaks volumes about some of the peculiarities of the Japanese psyche, because rather than the ominous Jigsaw, here we have a demented yellow anime teddy-bear called Pon-Kichi giving the commands. There seems to be a peculiar conflation between cutesy and nasty in Japan: there never seems to be a million miles between Hello Kitty and hentai. It seems that Pon-Kichi and his bear cohorts are keen on encouraging a bit of group solidarity in the new Death Tube contestants, and the asinine tasks which follow force them to cooperate in order to pass to the next set of tests, and hopefully to freedom. The tasks really are silly, too. It's a case of 'draw a moustache on yourself' or die!

Is this a weird satire on the nature of group solidarity then? Or is it casting a critical eye on internet apathy? Perhaps, but largely this is a perversely funny film - I laughed in disbelief often - and it makes no bones about leaping straight from a trouserless, hula-hooping man to scenes of pretty nasty physical harm. Pon-Kichi the bear (later appearing as a man in a bear suit with bear suit-wearing helpers) comes off like a mad manager ordering team-building exercises: yes, there is a bit more at stake here, but the daft group tasks are similar and the 'mission statements' pinned to the walls are also rather familiar. However, much of the gore suggested by the opening scenes is not all that apparent later in the film: this 'front-loading' may be disappointing, as the film relies on low-key effects or suggestion for much of the later violence. The pace also drops substantially after the vigour of the opening scenes, much of which is due to one of the most common flaws of indie movies - being far too long. At just five minutes short of two hours, several of the tasks are extensive to the point of being boring (especially considering this is meant to be an internet channel catering to the miniscule attention spans of online watchers!)

That said, if you enjoy the inevitable culture-shock to be had from Japanese genre cinema, then you will find lots of hilarity here, as well as a few decent twists and a dash of grue. This is as much a garish slapstick as a horror movie and it's quite good fun, despite the rather dodgy pace in places. I couldn't help but think that considering some of the Japanese game-shows which have already aired (some of you may remember clips from Za Gaman - 'Endurance' - on British television in the early nineties) the premise of Death Tube doesn't seem entirely impossible…

4 Digital Asia always do a sterling job of presenting their features and Death Tube is no exception, despite some rather overly-bright scenes in the original. This is a quite high-contrast picture with decent, clear colours and a clear sound transfer. This is important, even in a subtitled film, where the incongruous classical music is very much part of the fun. This was obviously a low-budget filming, but this release is as ever of good quality. The screener also contains a Death Tube trailer and this film will be released on September 20th 2010.

Review by Keri O'Shea

Released by 4Digital Asia
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review