1997’s Cube, the Canadian film about a group of ne’erdowells who wake up in a literal cube-like prison filled with booby traps, became a cult film on video after no real theatrical release here in the states. But in Japan, it was a certified rental phenomenon. This could be because the Japanese saw something familiar in the story of a group of people regulated to tiny prisons, given their less than spacious living accommodations. Or it could be because the premise is quite similar to one of the most popular tropes in Japanese media — a group of ordinary people, placed in an extraordinary circumstance and forced to fight for their lives. This immediately brings to mind both Battle Royale and Gantz and it’s a plot device that allows those affected to shed the hard coded societal norms and etiquette impressed upon them — most importantly the good of the many in favor of the needs of the individual.
While this remake/reboot that just hit Screambox shares A LOT of DNA with that original film it’s an extremely localized take to be sure. The film starts out much like the original as a group of individuals who all appear to have a dark past wake up in a cube and slowly attempt to unravel the secrets of their prison and hopefully escape. But it’s how the interpersonal drama and tension is ratcheted up here, that marks the biggest departure from the original. Bullying is at the forefront of the trauma suffered by our protagonists, along with the expectations of their elders held over them in their former lives, wanting nothing more than to be free not only of the cube, but the older generations who expect them to maintain the same work and cultural norms.
The cast here is pretty stacked, Masaki Suda (Kamen Rider W) plays Yuichi Goto, the lead who has a rather troubled past which is dealt out in drips and drabs throughout the film. Takumi Saitoh (Shin Ultraman/Shin Godzilla/Shin Kamen Rider) plays the game weary veteran Hiroshi Ide, and Masaki Okada (Drive My Car) rounds out the leads as a salaryman on the cusp of madness. It’s the power struggle between those three that supplies the film with much of the film’s drama as they all bring to the situation their own way of dealing with the circumstance. There is also a young boy who can’t speak, a young woman and an older man who are basically relegated to props here sadly. A good cast is key to a Cube film and they don’t disappoint.
Given this film is probably shot on a singular cube set, that set is still however rather impressive . The cube here appears to be a bit newer, or cleaner, and the use of LEDs in the set design to light the individual panels is also a nice touch to portray mood and signify traps. The cinematography manages to keep the space as open as could be expected, while not feeling too claustrophobic in how it portrays the action and dialog on screen. One thing I really thought stood out was the soundtrack by Yutaka Yamada who is probably best known for his work on the anime Tokyo Ghoul, its techno franticness only helps ratchet up certain sequences. While his score doesn’t overburden the visuals it does manage to add some interesting flourishes to the action and drama that do a great job at accentuating the camera work by Yasuhiko Shimizu.
What Yasuhiko Shimizu has done with Cube is take just enough liberties with the source to make it his own while still keeping it recognizable to fans. Director Yasuhiko Shimizu definitely has a very specific message he is trying to convey about being a young man in Japan in this generation and their struggle to free themselves of the previous self imposed imprisonment. As a fan of the original myself I thoroughly enjoy this fresh perspective, it’s just different enough from the original while keeping the original spirit in mind, with a few new twists in there for good measure.
Like all Cube films its the cast the really brings the drama to life and the cast here paired with its updated take works flawlessly and it makes me hopeful we will get a sequel.