A group of researchers are watching over an android that they have recently caught. They keep it restrained and its mouth covered as it is capable of releasing a deadly powder that transforms those who are engulfed by it and sends them into a deep hallucinogenic state. Eventually the android is able to escape and sprays one of the researchers with the powder and he soon finds himself traveling through a world of nightmares.
"Death Powder" is another movie that is considered a staple in Japanese cyberpunk and is highly praised for its visuals, being bizarre, and extreme. For that I am quite thankful that I managed to watch it before its popularity took off or I manage to avoid hearing the praise before I watched it, or else I think I would take great issue as "Death Powder" is a pretty terrible movie.
The movie suffers from a number of issues, the main one being is that it can't decide if it wants to be a standard science fiction movie or if it wants to be a surreal-experimental movie, so it tries to be both and ultimately fails miserably at. The traditional sci-fi elements of the movie aren't terrible; in fact when the movie first starts I thought it held some promise at being just an average movie. Unfortunately after you get a general introduction to the characters and get an idea of what the story maybe about the movie switches gears and decides it’s going to go the route of being strange and surreal.
Naturally you can see the obvious influences from the likes of Shinya Tsukamoto and Sogo Ishii in the movie, but it also takes some Western influences from the likes of David Cronenberg. Because the movie's story deals with a psychotronic journey of characters after being sprayed with a powder by an android they were keeping watching over. "Death Powder" tries to take on Cronenberg's usual philosophical approach to his movies dealing with life, death, and flesh. To the point that even the dialogue in "Death Powder" often refers to "the flesh" as almost an alternate plain of existence between life and death.
Of course the movie tries to throw in surreal imagery and bizarre visuals to compete with its fellow genre titles. For some reason though it never works well in this movie, all of the visuals come off as cheap and laughable. It never has a natural feel to it or an artistic value, it instead comes off as forced and someone who is trying to be weird for the sake of being weird. Which is a shame because the movie at times does have its moments of having some decent practical effects of melting faces, transforming bodies, and even an exploding head. Instead these few shining moments are buried under cheap cinematography and even worse editing.
I'm not even going to comment on the films story because it doesn't really have one. It tries to but like the rest of the movie it's nothing but a jumbled mess of different ideas and elements tied together with incoherent thoughts. "Death Powder" tries to be deep and philosophical by taking a page out of Cronenberg's book but instead it comes off as nothing but a poor man's imitation. It wants to be bizarre and surreal, rather it all comes off as cheap, forced, and down right laughable. The movie could have become a decent viewing had it stuck with more of a traditional sci-fi movie, instead it tries to be some bigger and fails at doing so. If "Tetsuo the Iron Man" is the epitome of Japanese Cyberpunk cinema then "Death Powder" is the z-grade bottom of the barrel trash of the subgenre. Although I would still take it over "I.K.U." any day.