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Survive Style 5+ (JAPAN 2004)

Director : Gen Sekiguchii
Cast : Tadanobu Asano, Reika Hashimoto, Kyoko Koizumi, Hiroshi Abe, Ittoku Kichibe, Yumi Asou, Jai West, Kanji Tsuda, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Yoshiyoshi Awakawa, Vinnie Jones, & Sonny Chiba.

A man continually trying and failing to get his wife to stay dead; a self-absorbed ad agency creative director who comes up with one unworkably inane idea after another; an English hitman who only wants to know everyone’s function in life; and an unfortunate office worker and father whose brain is left scrambled after a stage hypnotist is murdered in mid-performance. Starting off as unrelated plot lines, they intertwine with each other as they continue on their respective ways.

by Liz Brkljac

This extraordinary film is the first outing by director Gen Sekiguchi, and as such highly accomplished. As a label defying film this is a bizarre black comedy with strong elements of crime drama and action, and really quite unlike the usual representatives of any of these borrowed genres.

The 5 of the title, referrers to five interconnected story lines linked by the first, a British Hitman, played by ex- footballer turned hard – man actor Vinnie Jones, and his Japanese translator, Yosiyosi Arakawa. These two villains inhabit each story. Vinnie Jones’ raison detre is to ask each person he meets the metaphysical question “What’s your function in life?” Wrong answers inevitably lead to episodes of comic violence.

In a common device borrowed from all classic cinema the different episodes thread and weave through one another, giving the story a single narrative, sometimes hinging upon very swift turns of events.

The first story concerns Aman, played by Asano Tadanobu, who repeatedly kills and buries his wife, only to find her re animating each time and laying in wait to exact revenge on him back at their house, her killing methods becoming more and more inventive: Pulling him into the bathtub to drown him, firing body parts at him and trying to kill him with a large Christmas stocking. All these attempts are carried out in a house that is itself a visual feast, a wondrous eruption of colours and styles, the bright pinks and reds, blues and greens vomiting forth from the screen. Even the meal Aman’s wife cooks him after returning from the killing fields the first time is full of colour, blue milkshake, red and green lettuce, pink meat. Aman’s wife, dressed in vivid costumes, chases him through long garishly patterned corridors, where the neon paint is chipping off the walls, through rooms full of every accessory imaginable. One room is decorated only with eyes surrounded by bright colours, even the light fitting is made up of four eyeballs. Asano Tadanobu is, as always, brilliant, rarely articulating, communicating everything though facial expression.

The next thread is that of an advertisement producer, Yoko, played by Kyoko Koizumi, whose bizarre imagined adverts are sprinkled throughout the film, signalled by her rapid blinking and followed by her distinctive laugh. The most memorable advert involves a talking head with two faces, one on the bottom, one on the top, that are shown arguing over whether to have rice or bread in a restaurant. One of her scenes contains a hilarious cameo by the Asian Screen Legend Sonny Chiba, who plays an advertising board chairman in an important meeting, repeatedly hounded by his wife over a broken bathroom light bulb. Yoko is first introduced when she is in a gaudily decorated room, in bed with a stage hypnotist, who we see more of later. The words Viva Friends are hung above the bed.

A van containing three colourful burglars, J, Morishita and Tsuda arrives next, counting out the money they have stolen and discussing their other major preoccupation, sex. They are subsequently seen in a house they have broken into, where it seems that J and Morishita are developing a special bond, that is intensified later in the film through Vinnie Jones’ own violent act in a Japanese sauna.

Lastly come the Kobayashis, a family of four, who have bought much sought after tickets to the hit hypnotism show ‘Viva Friends’, starring the previously encountered stage hypnotist, played by Hiroshi Abe. During the performance the hypnotist convinces the father, Kaho, that he is in fact a bird. Due to tragic events, Kaho remains locked into this delusion permanently.

Shihori Kanjiya, as Kaho, is remarkable in this portrayal. Though he is still dressed in business suit throughout the rest of the film (apart from a memorable scene where he is in a microwave dressed in his underpants!), you are convinced of his avian credentials.

This film has been crafted to an almost faultless level of perfection. The acting is skilful and the timing flawless. The indie noise soundtrack assists the narrative design of many scenes, and acts as an integral player throughout, such as the relationship between J and Morishita. There is one insane scene where the Kobayashis are head banging and singing along in full voice to the obscene chorus of a popular punk song in their family car on the way to the show.

The colours of this movie are most profound in Aman’s psychedelic residence, complemented by the beautifully designed costumes of his zombified wife, the brightly dressed burglars, the ridiculous suit worn by the translator and the garish home of the stage hypnotist. These are comic book colours that match the comic book World of violence such as the storyboard slow motion flight by Aman across his kitchen following another of his dead wife’s numerous attacks.

With all this emphasis on visual style, and colour scheming you may consider there would be a lack of content, but this is just not so. The stories are coherent, with well – rounded, empathic characters, that you find yourself caring about. It becomes important to see what will happen next to these very real people. This is in part due to the excellent acting but also due to the skilled screenplay from writer, Taku Tada.

This film is really all about acceptance. Aman needs to accept his actions have led to his wifes’ death, Kobayashi has to accept he will always be a bird, while his family have to accept he is. Yoko has to accept that her adverts are worthless, and our two hapless burglars, J and Morishita, have to accept their own common sexuality.

Although the films themes are predominantly dark, dealing with murder and revenge, there are many moments of high comedy. This film will make you smile with its’ well developed sense of humour, and the ending, though unexpected, is perhaps the ultimate feel good ending.

Where this will win a cult audience, it will be among adherents to the left field and with those that can appreciate the voracious genre crossing story, done so with such impunity and flair that most established directors would shy from as excessively characteristic.

This new film maker brings his own unique vision and clearness of purpose to construct a genuine original, that whilst it is not for everybody, will inevitably find a classic status.

Plot : 3/5
Acting : 3/5
Entertainment : 3/5
Overall : 4/5

Notable Scenes
- The shitload of fight scenes
- Ting/Muay/Humlae getting chased by the goons
- The Taxi car chase.

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Ong Bak

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