“Seventh Code” is a minor entry in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s corpus, a quirky one-hour caper designed to showcase singer-actress Atsuko Maeda as a seemingly nutty young woman smitten by a shady guy in Vladivostok. Given the pic’s slight attributes, it’s all the more surprising Rome’s jury awarded Kurosawa the best directing prize. Notwithstanding a few amusing scenes and a general air of unpredictability, “Seventh Code” barely manages to fill up its 60 minutes with a cohesive narrative. It’ll do best as a DVD extra, though fests will likely include it, as at Rome, with the helmer’s most recent short.
The opening moments are the film’s best, as a suitcase-toting Akiko (Maeda) chases after a car along the hilly streets of Vladivostok. She finally catches up with the driver, Matsunaga (Ryohei Suzuki), reminding him they met in Tokyo one month before and she never thanked him for dinner. He barely remembers the encounter and takes a powder. Akiko follows him to a business meeting, where two hoods kidnap her and dump her on the outskirts of town.
Sporting a Penske Racing jacket and other clothes she pinches from a house, Akiko wanders back into the city, where she finds a cafe run by Saito (Hiroshi Yamamoto) and his Chinese g.f., Hsiao-yen (Aissy).Though Saito is losing money, he lets her work as a waitress while she keeps looking for Matsunaga. Once she locates him, Akiko learns he’s involved in criminal deals with the Russian mob, centered around a ruined factory where klystron is stored.
Basically, the pic is one medium-sized red herring swallowing smaller red herrings as it moves along: The ruined factory is treated as if it’s a high-security fortress complete with state-of-the-art locking devices, and Akiko’s kookiness turns out to be a front. Kurosawa claims that he made “Seventh Code” as a vehicle to show off Maeda’s talents (though her thesping skills aren’t exactly put to the test), and that it’s his first action movie (stretching the definition). But while the helmer has definitely put aside the J-horror elements he’s known for, he’s also tossed away psychological acuity in favor of a superficial lark.
Norifumi Ataka’s production design reps one of the film’s more interesting elements, especially Matsunaga’s out-of-place apartment with its billowing orange curtains. Music is inserted in a self-conscious fashion, culminating with Maeda singing “Loneliness Is the 7th Chord” as she looks dreamily towards the camera.