https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=27279&reviewer=371

Seventh Code

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/29/14 12:32:26

"One hour, one pretty good caper."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "The Seventh Code" is the sort of movie that can easily get lost in a career like like Kiyoshi Kurosawa's: It's a short thing produced alongside two large projects that sure looks like a promotional tool for its pop-star lead actress. If it is that sort of work-for-hire gig, then at least Kurosawa is using it as a chance to try some new things, shooting a lighter Hitchcockian caper outside of Japan.

This movie's unconventional heroine is Akiko (Atsuko Maeda), a flaky Tokyo girl who has chased Matsunaga (Ryohei Suzuki), a guy she met once in a club a month ago to Vladivostok based on a comment about wanting to see her again that he has completely forgotten. He says she should go home and it seems like good advice; her persistence gets her abducted and stranded there without a passport for her trouble. A more sensible girl would head to the consulate and home, but Akiko makes new friends - Japanese restauranteur Saito (Hiroshi Yamamoto) and his Chinese girlfriend Hsiao-yen (Aissy), and continues to follow Matsunaga even after it's clear that he's involved in something very shady.

It winds up going to one of the two or three places where you'd expect - I can't say what Akiko finally gets into surprised me - but it's a good time getting there. Kurosawa plays things rather lighter than his horror movies and drama Tokyo Sonata, with a streamlined story and a disarming directness in how the characters approach each other, even when Kurosawa pulls the curtain back or events get more serious. Yusuke Hayashi contributes a playful score, the sort that instantly calls to mind people sneaking around. The international intrigue ambles along, but a fair amount of time is also spent on how these characters have come to Eastern Russia looking to establish themselves as something different, although Akiko and Saito are a bit behind Hsiao-yen in terms of actual ambition.

Vladivostok is a new environment for Kurosawa, but he makes the most of it sitting in a portion of the port city that is run down and often overgrown, a fine place for secret exchanges. He plays around with this intrigue for a while, and then shifts hears to give the audience some impressive action and a bit of straight-faced absurdity. Neither has typically been part of Kurosawa's arsenal before now - well, Tokyo Sonata had a dark, dry sense of humor - but he handles both pretty well. Heck, even the detour into a music video segment which seems to have nothing to do with the story kind of fits into the anything-goes feel of the thing.

That there is this sort of music bit isn't surprising; star Atsuko Maeda is a former member of Japanese supergroup AKB48 and her record company produced the movie. She holds her own as an actress (not really new for her; she was one of the best things about Hideo Nakata's The Complex last year), capturing what makes this sort of ditzy character easy to like even when she's stepping quite foolishly out of her depth, and she negotiate the movies tricky back end without missing a step. Aissy makes a nifty complement as Akiko's new gal pal taking a character who could be sort of pushy and cold but forming a nice bond with Akiko. Hiroshi Yamamoto captures Saito's good heart while making him kind of pitiable, the sort of guy who seemingly just doesn't have enough to offer these Peery young women he's with. Ryohei Suzuki is okay as Matsunaga, but it kind of goes downhill from there, especially in scenes with Russian and Japanese actors using English as a common language.

It makes for a weird, but enjoyable, little movie, and if Kurosawa never does anything like it again, it will be one heck of a confusing outlier. Of course, at an hour long, it's likely to have a hard time getting seen, not being an easy fit for festivals (Fantasia paired it with another short-ish feature), theatrical release, or even home video. It's a fun discovery, though, whether one is a fan of Kurosawa, Maeda/AKB48, or relaxed, entertaining thrillers.

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