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Vital (JAPAN 2004)

Director & Writer : Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast : Tadanobu Asano, Nami Tsukamoto, Kiki, Kazuyoshi Kushida, Lily and Hana Kino.

by Edward Tang

From the man who brought us the classic mindfuck Tetsuo comes another flick that shows his greatness in every scene. There are very few directors out there who establish themselves to a point where as if you were to see a single frame of their movies, you could tell what director was doing the job and his name is all over this one. Perhaps not everyone is familiar with the name, if not check out some of his great works like the already mentioned Tetsuo, Snake in June, Tokyo Fist or Bullet Ballet. Vital is a basic film that really doesn’t showcase notable odd and plain ol’ nasty shit that the man is usually known for but this shows how he has matured as a director, not needing the violent factor (shame) to spice up the night rather than displaying his excellent style of direction and interesting visuals.

Hiroshi Takagi (Asano) gets into a violent car accident that almost kills him but he does survive although his girlfriend isn’t so lucky. When he does awake later on, he can’t remember a thing. He goes back home with his parents to see if that can put that turn his mind around, instead he is drawn to a book about dissection and immediately enrolls in a medical school. We learn later that just before the accident, Takagi lost interest in medicine and became some what of a drifter. Part of the medical schooling features the students taking part in dissecting corpses and for some reason Takagi seems to recognize his project. He later finds out that the corpse he’s dissecting is his former girlfriend.

The story is fairly simple to follow, I’ve heard people bitch about how it got confusing when they’d cut to one of Takagi’s memories quickly and then simply go back to the present situation but that wasn’t really a problem for me. It’s truly interesting going into the main character’s mind as he discovers small memories left and right (his memories don’t feel like true memories, notes Takagi). The film is not without it’s messages that circle around the importance of memories to humans, do we see what we want to see? Tsukamoto adds his flair by directing Takagi’s memories like they were pieces of art from his girlfriend’s dancing style to the bright colors in some of the scenes. I liked the scenes that involved Takagi visiting the parents of his girlfriend, her father noting that his daughter had changed and seemed to have lost her “light.”

Tsukamoto’s direction shines throughout, from his editing style to his art that makes you simply look at the screen and take in the images. I enjoyed alot of his direction, especially in the dissection scenes. The dissection scenes were done in such a way, you could hear the flesh on metal sound and feel every single moment of them as Takagi would jot down his sketches of the mashed up bodies in such a frenzied type way. I’d say if there was a strong point in the film, it’d be the direction because the story can get dull in some spots. All of the scenes that involved his girlfriend and him with their sexual fetish for strangling each other or just them simply sitting on the beach were all well done. Tsukamoto handles all of this without going back to the fuckall technique of showing mangled body parts and blood just for the sake of it being there (there are some notable scenes like this but very few). One of my favorite shots from the entire flick was one which showed Takagi talking to his girlfriend’s father as Tsukamoto slowly motions the camera around him, showing the picture of his wife sitting next to his daughter (showcasing that his WIFE had just passed on from a disease revealed earlier in the film).

The performances are pretty good as well, Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer) portrays the long haired and brain damaged Takagi with expressions and mannerisms rather than with dialog (He has very few lines to say in this film) and does a remarkable job. The two leading ladies (Kiki and Nami Tsukamoto) both do a good job as well, dealing with the characters on how they should be done with some random outburts but they still the job the right way. The secondary characters in the film (The parents of both Takagi and Ryoko) have a little more time to get their characters developed so obviously they have more characteristics that would fall into the human category (while the Asano and Tsukamoto characters seem more off beat and dream like in some sense).

For a film, Vital has much going for that includes stellar direction, worthy performances and a plot that is actually interesting and covers some good topics. It’s actually a surprise to see the director of something like Tetsuo come out with a more mild version (still has its moments of pure intensity) of what he throws out at you. It’s a solid movie experience and showcases one of the more under-appreciated directors at work doing his fuckin’ thing the right way and that’s always worth something.

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

Notable Scenes
- The autopsy scenes
- Hiroshi’s flashbacks and bizarre dreams.

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Vital

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