Death Tube – Review
by Miguel Douglas on November 28, 2010
One day, Inoue Satoshi stumbles upon a supposedly popular video site named “Death Tube”. The site apparently showcases real people playing games in order to survive, and if they fail, certain death is the outcome. Viewers of the site can also comment on the atrocities seen onscreen in real time. After viewing one such situation, Inoue thinks nothing of it and passes it off as simply a fake. The next day, Inoue wakes up to find himself within the very game he viewed earlier, this time vying for his own life. He meets other contestants as well, and they must cooperate throughout a series of challenges to ultimately escape the game…or die trying.
Sensationalism within the confinement of death has always garnered a sense of excitement for many people throughout history. Whether it was the gladiatorial games played within ancient Rome, the practice of human beheading for sportsmanship within a war-torn 1937 Nanjing, China, or communal lynching’s during the 19th century in America, the exhibition of death has always been a fascinating aspect of humanity that persists even to this day. With the advent of the Internet, the possibility to view such horrific acts through the use of video streaming can be seen throughout the world, which has sadly been the case in many circumstances. For the Internet is a public platform in which thoughts, feelings, and actions can be displayed upon, and a place where even death can become entertainment in the most perverse sense.
Fukada Yohei’s Death Tube chronicles this correlation between death and public spectacle by focusing on the power of the Internet to do so. Taking a look into the realm of the grotesque, the film looks into the exploitation of murder for the sake of public enjoyment. Satirical in its approach, the film touches upon these aspects with an adherence towards bringing forth such difficult questions surrounding morality and public responsibility. Questions such as the anonymity of the Internet, the ability for people to disregard human life, and even principles of Darwinism are also proposed throughout the film and are given tangibility. What the film does well though is capture the inane responses dealt by many of the viewers of the game. While at times disgusting, distasteful, and humorous, the responses surprisingly reiterates the nature of comments left on real-life sites such as Youtube, the site that the film mimics. This insight provides some appeal into the anonymity of the Internet, and looks at a very selected portion of Internet culture. Considering the complexity of such material, the film also offers up numerous moments of comical persuasiveness that is seemingly established only to alleviate the seriousness at hand—which in turn severely diminishes the quality of the film.
And this is where Death Tube falters as a serious critique of the deathly spectacle. While elements of humor pervade throughout the film—and are certainly a welcomed addition in some instances—it ultimately disassociates itself from being taken as a crucial examination in how we respond to such heinous actions given the anonymity of the Internet. The film seemingly can’t choose what it wants to promote more—the personal dilemma of its cast or offer an elaborate examination of the Internet culture when driven to the extremity—it simply can’t choose. And while the film does raise some critical questions surrounding certain aspects of society, it never explores them to the fullest degree. Stuck between solidifying itself between being a comedy or horror film, the film steadily crumbles under its own weight as it can’t successfully accomplish either of them. Suffice to say, it attempts to explore a multitude of facets, but ultimately becomes lost in a clumsy attempt in balancing them out. The established presence of such examinations is viewed within the opening minutes of the film, but sadly deteriorate as the film progresses.
Illogical circumstances deriving from character actions also come to the forefront—and as viewed in various other horror films—doesn’t help to extend the believability of the situation at all. Irrational decisions, loosely based assumptions, and outright lunacy permeate throughout the film to the point where one questions just ganging up on villains—who are promptly dressed up in cutesy teddy bear costumes—and just escaping. Again, these rather laughable actions do nothing but distance the film from offering a rather critical look into the severity of human cruelty for the sake of enjoyment. While other films such as the Saw film franchise have dealt with similar topics before, it never truly advocated for humor to take precedence over its material, instead culminating in one extreme situation after another and creating some notion of believability. Death Tube follows this same route, but offers up moments that distract and ultimately remove any sense of structure the film had in the beginning, and instead chooses to offer an overlong conclusion that removes itself completely from reality.
Overall, Death Tube ultimately remains a shallow attempt at being a horror film, especially given the context of its material. It offers a bizarre take on the Internet culture, sensationalism, and death, but amply decides to remove itself from being taken with any considerable merit concerning those subjects, only deftly glossing over them. If more time had been dedicated towards exploring the ramifications of such a culture, it would’ve added an impressive amount of depth necessary to elevate its plot. As for where it currently stands, the absurdity of the film is expanded by its simplified attempt at social critique, abundance of nonsensical humor, and the obvious parodying of various horror films. While one can most certainly appreciate the attempt at tackling such broad material, Death Tube simply chooses to focus on the miniscule nature of its characters and their dire situation, foregoing any sense of cultural examination—a notion it seemingly started out with, but sadly let fall to the wayside.