Survive Style 5+ (2004) 120 Minutes. Gen Sekiguchi, Director.
A movie where love means never having to kill your wife more than five or six times...
I thought for the first real review I've done in a while, I'd cover one of my favorite films that remains horribly unseen in the US. It's going to be really hard for me not to oversell this one, I'll warn whomever reads this one now. Everyone has films that are their personal favorites, and if I were to rank my top films of the last decade, this one would be in the top ten. I am probably alone in that, partially because few have had the opportunity to watch it from what I can tell, and partially because of that abstract thing that makes a film resonate with some people more than others. One thing is for certain though, I can't think of any movie quite like it.
What is your function?
Survive Style 5+ is kind of an anthology consisting of five stories that manically overlap and interweave with each other. It was the feature film debut of Gen Sekiguchi, who's only other work listed on IMDB is two short films. If the information I've found is correct, he primarily makes his living by directing television commercials. The film seems to never slow down from start to finish, seldom giving you enough time to take in the incredible set design as you fly from one scene to the next. It's sheer unpredictability keeps you from guessing what's going on, and it's probably best to just strap in and enjoy it.
The cast is solid and made up of talent such as Tadanobu Asano (one of my favorite actors, perhaps best known for his role as Kakihara in Ichi The Killer), British actor Vinnie Jones, Hiroshi Abe, Ittoku Kishibe, Jai West (who recently starred in Love Exposure), model/actress Reika Hashimoto, as well as a cameo from the great Sonny Chiba, among others. They all play well off of each other in the film and I can't imagine that they didn't have a great time making it, particularly Asano and Hashimoto, who play a married couple.
The film opens with my favorite story, where a man who's just killed his wife discovers that she isn't dead after all. Aman, played by Tadanobu Asano, gives a brief monologue on killing, and how we wouldn't understand his wanting his wife dead. After burying his wife (Reika Hashimoto) in the woods, he returns to his utterly amazing and somewhat impractical home only to find her waiting there patiently for him to return. She serves him a huge feast, seeming to consist of every bit of food in the house, and waits for him to finish eating before she proceeds to attack him, kicking off (literally) a cycle of almost cartoonish battles between them that will repeat throughout the film. He kills her again, comes home and again she's waiting for him, and the battles continue.
A foreign hit man, played by Vinnie Jones, is brought in by special request for an extravagant, very public job by the man who subcontracted him and acts as his translator. Jones plays well into his stereotype, sneering at everyone he meets, growling the question “What is your function?” at them. He flies off on a rage anytime he doesn't receive a satisfactory answer to this question, which allows for some great moments on airplanes and saunas, while his translator does his best to keep up with the ranting and obscenity that Jones spouts off.
Other stories involves a group of teenagers who burglarize peoples homes for entertainment, one of whom is filled with unrequited love for another gang member, a family who's father is hypnotized into believing he's a bird, much to the horror of his wife and family, and finally, a commercial executive who's constantly thinking up bizarre and quirky television commercials which she explains into a decorated micro-cassette recorder.
You are killing me with the smell of armpits.
This last story thread, involving Yoko the commercial executive, is my least favorite but I can't imagine the film without it being included. Every time that Yoko, played by Kyôko Koizumi, thinks of a commercial, we get to see the commercial play out in the film that she's visualized. Her commercial ideas don't exactly please her clients, nor do they impress her lover, a hypnotist. I found her character to be the least likable person in the film, even while her lover is clearly the most despicable character present, and am still unsure why exactly I feel that way.
The visuals in this film are amazing. Pure eye candy. Vibrant colors cover almost every frame of the film, much of which was done in post production, although you can't tell to look at it. The set designs are lavish and insanely detailed, from the home Aman shares with his wife, down to such small touches as the interior of the gang's car and Yoko's tape recorder. The character costumes are as outlandish and over the top as their personalities, with the beautiful Reika Hashimoto having some of the most stunning outfits of all.
The soundtrack also plays an integral part of Survive Style 5, and is as outlandish as you might expect. The majority of it provided by James Shimoji, but it also contains well known songs such as The First Noel and The William Tell Overture. Scenes that are accented with music are both appropriate and sometimes as over the top as the scenes themselves, which only adds to the roller coaster effect of the film.
While the film at first appears to be rocketing viewers through it with gleeful abandon and childlike innocence, it's actually got quite a bit of heart in the end. It covers many themes such as love and loss, resentment and acceptance, denial and regret, among others. The characters in the film must find ways to continue to survive in the lives that they are placed in, and deal with what that survival means. By the end of the film almost everyone is changed in some way.
You can see the trailer for Survive Style 5+ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEH7nDkiPEk
I urge anyone who reads this blog to give this film a chance. It is one of the most fun times I've had watching a movie in a long time. If you live in the USA, it's sadly unavailable in Region 1. If you have a region free DVD player, however, it can be had quite inexpensively from Amazon.co.uk, where if memory serves I paid less than 4GBP for my copy.
* Special thanks to Andrea (@forestaken on twitter) for assisting with this review and encouraging me to get over the writer's block I've been fighting with. =)
I love Asian Cinema, Horror, Drama, and film in general. Also enjoy books, art, music, and pets. This is my attempt to review films that I think more people should see, and maybe a few that probably shouldn't be seen by anyone. Ever.