Hiroki Yamaguchi's Hellevator: The Bottled Fools [Gusha no Bindume] is as Japanese as a movie can be. Utterly drenched in cyberpunk and manga influences, the film is a sprawling testament of what a young filmmaker can accomplish with a shoestring budget as long as he has the talent and vision to make something unique. It's a shame we haven't heard from Yamaguchi since, but at least he left us with a very special legacy indeed.
If the name Gusha no Bindume doesn't ring a bell it might be because you know the film under a different title. As it dates back to a time when publishing companies were still very eager to bring Japanese films to the West (or at least, eager enough to pick up off-center titles like these), several titles were thought up to release it here. And so the film is also known as Gusher no Binds Me, Hellevator and The Bottled Fools, all referring to this film.
Hellevator is a typical movie where holes left by a lacking budget are filled with creativity and inventiveness. From the start it's clear that Yamaguchi had few means to his disposal, at the same time he knows to impress with a varied range of tricks and creative alternatives that still managed to lend his film a professional shine. The same goes for the concept of the film. While basically a single-room setting film, there is always plenty happening and after a short while you'll hardly notice the fact that Yamaguchi cut back heavily on set designs.
The film is set in a dystopian future, somewhere inside a large and all-encompassing structure. We follow Luchino, a troubled young girl fleeing from an explosion she caused by illegal smoking. She runs inside an elevator trying to escape the authorities, but halfway through her escape the elevator is brought to an emergency stop in order to pick up two top ranked criminals on their way to their final resting place. Things get hairy, and before the passengers realize it the elevator is cut off from the main system and left in the hands of the two criminals. And as it turns out, the other passengers riding the elevator each have their own secrets to hide.
Visually there is a lot going on here. Yamaguchi makes good use of whatever means he has, resulting is strong lighting and camera work, subtle use of the right visual filters, inventive production design and one or two scenes that go all out. There are two or three CG shots that feel lacking, but are still needed to give a better idea of the overall setting our characters live in. These moments are easy to overlook though as they don't last long and the budgetary limitations of the film are plain and obvious.
The soundtrack consists mostly of electronic-influenced background music. While pretty decent and fitting the actual music is a little too generic for my tastes. The sound editing on the other hand is a bit groovier, especially when the convicted criminals enter the elevator and one of them starts talking backwards. A simple yet creepy effect that gives a lot of extra shine to his dialogs. It's clear that Yamaguchi is a product of the post-processing generation, but he sure handles his techniques with commendable flair.
Hellevator is a film that builds on stereotypes and so the actors don't have too much work beyond acting out the character's typical hooks. The cast is well-fitted for the job though, the two criminals in particular are regular whack jobs that liven up the film considerably from the moment they are introduced. No point in expecting deep-digging performances of course, but keeping in mind the kind of film this is the acting is neigh perfect.
Considering the film is mostly restrained to one single elevator room, it's amazing to see how vivid and lively Yamaguchi's vision of the Hellevator universe turned out. Through the characters that enter and leave the elevator room we get a good idea of the kind of strange world these people live in, while at the same time obscuring most of the daily routines of that same universe. Our vision of this universe is restrained to a single elevator room, which adds a smart level of intrigue and mystery while still allowing us a glimpse of the cool stuff happening outside.
Many of the elements that make Hellevator such a cool film can be linked back to other films, but the combination of all these separate elements blended together still results in something highly unique with lasting appeal. It's easy to call the film a Cube clone or a live-action manga, but whatever link you try to make you'll always end up with the conclusion that it won't do justice to Yamaguchi's hard work.
Hellevator is Japanese low-budget sci-fi cinema at its finest. What Yamaguchi lacks in budget he makes up in inventiveness and creativity. The result is a highly entertaining film that contains plenty of treats to keep you interested throughout. Discovering Yamaguchi's universe is an exciting trip through a Japanese cyberpunk-influenced wonderland that leaves you begging for more. Hopefully Yamaguchi will find the strength to work on a follow-up feature, if not I'm still extremely happy he was able to complete this film, hopefully creating a worthwhile legacy with an appreciative cult following.