During WWII, a Japanese soldier helped himself to a pile of jewels, stolen from the Rabaley nation. Using these jewels, the soldier bought his way into a place of prominence within a large Japanese corporation. For whatever reason, the theft seems to have been undiscovered until shortly before the film begins; now, within a matter of days a statute of limitations will end, and Rabaley will forfeit their rightful ownership of the jewels to whoever happens to have them in their possession. Enter: a cartel of international jewel thieves, intent on lifting the jewels and keeping them for themselves. Enter: Yamawaki (Hideki Takahashi), a highly trained agent who left the government’s employ for love; he’s been hired by the corporation to keep the jewels safe. Enter: super spy Yabuki (Akira Kobayashi), tasked with saving the jewels for the Japanese government. What follows is a series of deceptions and gun fights, culminating in an all-out battle under the seafloor!
When you hear a high-pitched squeal coming out of your TV, you shouldn’t (like me) start cursing your apparently malfunctioning DVD. That whine is supposed to be there. It’s a torture, part of the rookie-ing process for Yabuki. It’s torture for the audience, too, but don’t worry, it soon goes away.
Tan Ida’s 3 Seconds Before Explosion is a harmless, fun schlock piece that doesn’t try to be more than it is. There’s nothing especially stylish or remarkable about it: it is what it is, and if you’re looking for 80 minutes of cheap action thrills, well, this will do suitably well. However, there are probably a few cheap rentals at the local video store that will do just as good, or better. Not that I want to damn the movie with faint praise--hey, I enjoyed it!--but it’s not something that can come highly recommended, except to those few people out there who consider themselves fans (or aficionados) of Japanese crime thrillers.
The plot of 3 Seconds Before Explosion is, as you have already seen, pretty ridiculous. Why does Rabaley’s ownership of its national jewels have an expiry date? More importantly, why do jewel thieves care so much about having the jewels when the expiration occurs? Presumably, being jewel thieves, they’d just steal them from whomever legitimately held them anyway. Oh well.
It doesn’t help that Yabuki’s brilliant scheme is to pretend to be a crooked reporter who wants a piece of the action, so he can infiltrate the jewel thief inner circle. This leads to lots of typical “can we trust him or can’t we?” stuff, which potentially gets in the way of this being a decent spy-type thriller. Throw in a few uninteresting female characters, for the sole purpose of having some uninteresting potential romances that go nowhere, and you can see that 3 Seconds Before Explosion is not the type of film to challenge convention. However, sometimes convention is there for a reason--you get that welcome familiarity of knowing what will happen next, and gleefully anticipating it, and that’s something.
Speaking of the women in 3 Seconds Before Explosion, I was surprised that almost all of them die. No sooner are most women introduced than they’re killed off, in some diabolical fashion. It would be fun to claim that this is making some sort of metatextual comment about the place of women within action films, but alas, this isn’t that film. This is the film that kills off all the female characters so they don’t get in the way of the men doing their thing.
There is some nice action in the film to keep things rolling along: gun battles, chases, you name it. In the end, the movie feels like an old crime flick you’d watch with your dad (or son, depending on your age) on TV during a Sunday afternoon--it might not be groundbreaking, but it’s satisfactory stuff. Still, I do wonder why Kino saw fit to release this and Detective Bureau 2-3 at the same time; it’s unlikely that either will garner a whole lot of interest outside of those few collectors who are already into this kind of things. Both are fairly bland offerings, though Detective Bureau 2-3 is clearly the superior film, due to Jo Shishido’s charm and Seijun Suzuki’s style. Like that DVD, 3 Seconds Before Explosion comes with two unsubbed previews for other Japanese crime thrillers. I can only recommend this to fans of the genre, or those interested in getting into it.