252 - Sign of Life on DVD

Sunday, 09 January 2011 12:29

Trapped underground in a subway train station, a handful of people desperately try to raise the attention of rescue parties by hammering out a 2-5-2 SOS-style distress call, indicating survivors need assistance. This movie is set several days after an earthquake, when a terrifying tsunami hits Tokyo and causes widespread destruction. To make matters worse, a thundering typhoon is predicted to follow in its wake.

One survivor is Yuji (Hideaki Itô), an ex-fireman who left under a cloud of guilt having saved his brother from a towering inferno, at the expense of his buddy. Forced to act, Yuji rises to the challenge in the face of adversity, whilst others buckle or even oppose his efforts. Yuji’s wife and daughter were also in the tube station at the time the tidal wave hit, complicating his bid for survival. Meanwhile, the weather and crumbling buildings hamper rescue efforts.

252 - Sign of Life on DVDThis Japanese disaster movie is efficiently directed by Nobuo Mizuta. It has the budget and confidence to show the grand scale of the tsunami advancing and ripping into Tokyo, and then smoothly narrows down its focus from hundreds of panicking tube passengers to just a small pocket of survivors. The cinematic impact of a natural tragedy like this is most effective when it is made personal, and the film succeeds on that basis.

We spend a lot of time with Yuji and his fellow survivors, and we soon get behind them. They include a young Korean woman with time-critical abdominal bleeding (to keep the tension up, of course), an obstructive trainee doctor with a confidence problem and a businessman who strangely clings on to his briefcase. Their personalities, temperaments and skill sets are varied enough to make their interaction interesting for most of the duration.

The disaster action is very well put together, be it through competent CGI, torrents of real water sweeping people off their feet, or ceilings and floors caving in with terrifying effect. This is just as well, as the picture quality of this DVD is surprisingly good. The sets are superb, fully conveying the pre-, during and post-tsunami damage. They are large enough to give the actors plenty to clamber up, under and over, but still confined enough to occasionally bring on claustrophobia.

The story is slight but there are plenty of twists along the way, and the audience is never sure who will make it out alive as the rug is literally pulled from under its feet on several occasions. The length of the film is probably the only fault I would raise, though it is typical of the genre. Other entries have concentrated on several groups of protagonists rather than primarily just one, though. Aside from that minor grumble, this movie is heartily recommended to all genre fans.

The DVD has no special features at all, and just the original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles.

“252: Sign of Life” (2009) is out now, courtesy of MVM. The running time is 130 minutes approx, certificate ‘12’, and the movie retails for £15.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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