Friday, February 5, 2010
REVIEW: Survive Style 5+
Survive Style 5+
Running time: 120 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
Gen Sekiguchi's 2004 burst of energy "Survive Style 5+" is, as of this writing, his sole feature film. It's one heck of a calling card though. It barrels through its five main stories with reckless abandon as it takes side routes, stops to enjoy the scenery and then continues to careen all over the screen crashing from one story to another - all the while keeping every single frame vibrant. Vibrant with colour - the house of the first story (which belongs to wife-murdering Aman played by Tadanobu Asano) appears as if a rainbow was settling in shortly after a tornado had just touched down fresh from scooping up the local candy, paint and toy stores. Vibrant with creativity - chock full of musical cues, camera tricks and set design, the film is simply never boring to look at. Vibrant with ideas - like its advertising executive (from the second story as played by Kyoko Koizumi), you just never know when a fresh new idea may spring up out of nowhere and immediately present itself.
Essentially separate stories about different people dealing with some major curveballs that life is tossing their way and the different styles they use to survive the experiences, the film plays somewhat like a madcap sketch comedy. The humour ranges from completely absurd to extremely dark - a hypnotized man behaves like a chicken, a wife keeps coming back from the dead (with different abilities each time), a British hitman and his interpreter accost people and mini-commercials are scattered throughout. Along with the lunacy, though, recurring situations and recurring phrases are carefully placed about the film so that its main themes aren't lost. Make the most of your lot in life and enjoy it while you can.
Along with the previously mentioned Asano and Koizumi, the cast is filled with subtle and very funny performances by Ittoku Shinibe, Reika Hashimoto, Hiroshi Abe, Yoshiyoshi Arakawa and, as the British hitman, Vinnie Jones. Well OK, Jones isn't quite as subtle as the others, but he still adds a great deal of humour as he questions everyone he meets with "What's your function?". There's also an amusing turn by Sonny Chiba as a Corporate president baffled by what to do when his wife calls him about a burnt out light bulb. It's the kind of movie that is just absurd enough to continue to keep you guessing, but also has characters and story lines you want to follow. A tricky proposition, but it feels like Sekiguchi didn't even break a sweat pulling it all together.
Apparently, since the film only received its music rights for release in Japan, it's not likely to be found in Region 1 anytime soon. There are buckets of song snippets and other pieces of music woven into the film and integrated with its scenes that would likely cost a great deal of money to secure for wider release. It's bordering on criminal that the film is not more widely available, but it would be even worse if they sacrificed any of the music in order to keep distribution costs down. I couldn't think of the film without Cake's slippery cover of "I Will Survive" closing things out. As the song says, we will indeed survive - and as long as there are films like "Survive Style 5+" around, we'll do it very happily.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.