Saturday, April 08, 2023

Cube (the Japanese Remake), on Screambox

Vicenzo Natali's 1997 film gave fans some life-and-death math well before Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code—with an emphasis on the death part. Instead of Fibonacci sequences, it was all about Cartesian Coordinates and primes, as well as brutal death traps. The rumored reboot has yet to happen, but it was remade in Japan, with Natali on-board as an executive producer. You still want to avoid prime numbers in Yasuhiko Shimizu’s Cube, which premieres Tuesday on Screambox.

Like in Natali’s original, six people wake up in a mysterious structure of interlocking cubes with no memory of how they got there. When they eventually find each other, it is clear the blue-collar Ide is the one who has had the most time to figure out the cube’s deadly ways. However, it is the emotionally-damaged teen Uno who figures out the significance of the serial number-like digits attached to each of the cube like rooms. If any of the three sets of three numbers constitutes a prime, there is sure to be a trap waiting for them in the corresponding chamber. However, even if there is no prime, there still could be a trap.

Much like the source film, most of the Cube’s prisoners have serious personal issues, like Ando, the obnoxious business man or Ochi, the psychopath. The one who doesn’t seem to have anything going on, actually holds the biggest secret, which represents the greatest departure from the 1997 film.

Frankly, Shimizu’s remake, adapted by Koji Tokuo is even weaker when it comes to characterization than the original. Whereas the first film might have been slightly more tethered to the real world, Tokuo’s version has more science fiction implications, but there is no time to explore them to any substantial extent.

Still, the cast handles it all fairly well. Masaki Okada finds the right level of twitchiness for Ochi, enough to feel off, but not too much to look instantly suspicious to the characters around him. Masaki Suda is a sufficiently sympathetic as Goto, young Uno’s de facto protector. Anne Watanabe, the daughter of Ken, probably has the weakest character, but she makes the most of her key moments.

The original
Cube got away with a lot, because it really was an innovative film. Since then, it has been ripped off repeatedly, perhaps most notably by The Platform and Escape Room. Unfortunately, that creates headwinds for Shimizu’s remake, in terms of viewer preconceptions and expectations. The claustrophobic menace is nicely realized, but the minor variations are not enough to sufficiently enrich the familiar themes. Only recommended on a limited basis to fans of Japanese cinema who have not seen the original (for its technical merits), Shimizu’s Cube starts streaming Tuesday (4/11) on Screambox.