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1 review, 8 user ratings

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Survive Style 5+
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by Jay Seaver

"1 of the zanier Japanese movies at Fantasia - and that's saying something!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: It's a weird, weird world for the characters in Gen Sekiguchi and Taku Tada's "Survive Style 5+". Like Robert Altman or P.T. Anderson with the strange turned up a notch, director Sekiguchi and writer Tada spend a half hour introducing five sets of characters before bumping their stories against each other in ways that may not always be unpredictable, but are predominately entertaining.

In story number 1, a man (Tadanobu Asano) has just killed his wife (Reika Hashimoto), but after burying the body, returns home to find her sitting in the kitchen - and not happy. In story number 2, television commercial director Yoko (Kyoko Koizumi) fancies herself a comedic genius, although as her lover (Hiroshi Abe) points out in about the rudest way possible, she's not; she's just strange. In story number 3, the Kobayashi family goes to see a popular hypnotist's show, but get more than they bargained for when the father (Ittoku Kishibe) is stuck thinking he's a bird after the performance is interrupted. In story number 4, a trio of small-time crooks (Kanji Tusda, Yoshiyuki Morishita, and Jai West) hang out together, with one making eyes at the second whenever the third isn't looking. And in story number 5, an English hitman (Vinnie Jones) asks everyone he meets, through his translator (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa), what the purpose of their existence is.

Though Sekiguchi directs and Tada writes, both are credited as editors, and it's in the editing room that the movie comes together, as the pair cuts between stories with great skill, and also managing nearly-perfect pacing in the individual segments. That's especially tricky in story number 1, as Reika Hashimoto never speaks and Tadanobu Asano's reactions to her are often silent as well. Dialog can dictate pacing, but what is the appropriate time for a man to stare blankly at his resurrected wife? Four seconds may be funnier than three, but five may just kill the joke dead.

That almost dialog-free thread of Ishigaki repeatedly killing Mimi, only to find her back at the house and ready to beat the crap out of him is easily the movie's wildest. Not only does she keep coming back for unexplained reasons, but she occasionally does so with bizarre superpowers relating to how the body was disposed of. And the set used for their house is wild - every room has a different bright color/decoration scheme, with lots of long hallways and even a catwalk. Asano's deadpan, "well, this is annoying" reactions after the initial spit-take are terrific, and Hashimoto is a wonderfully forceful presence even without saying a word.

Yoko's thread seems kind of disconnected from the others, especially since Aoyama (Abe) is out of her life fairly quickly. Her parts of the movie are frequently interrupted by the ideas for commercials that her life inspires, and while the first one is kind of funny, they get increasingly bizarre - kind of funny, but off, and it's not clear how they would actually sell a product. Ms. Koisumi walks a fine line, making her character dorkily lovable in the way she laughs at her jokes, but countered with pretentiousness and a stubborn refusal to see that she's not actually a genius. She's a surprisingly intriguing character, and gets fun support from a pair of teenage girls who frequent the same diner and a very funny Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba as her boss.

The most likable characters are the Kobayashi family, both "bird-dad", his wife Misa, and their children Kaho and Keiichi. Ittoku Kishibe has a nose and rings around his eyes that suggest a bird already, and there's great warmth to "both" of his performances, both in how Kobayashi enjoys spoiling his children and the freedom of not being a human salaryman anymore. Certain stereotypes are pulled out in their reactions - the worried mother, the embarrassed teenage daughter, and the curious and accepting young son, who gets to sum one of the movie's themes up with how we're all changing, and change isn't something to be afraid of. The Kobayashis also have a couple odd supporting characters, particularly Keiichi's art teacher and the doctors more interested in the father's current condition than curing it.

Probably the least successful thread is the trio of guys in their early twenties. Morishita, the one making the sexual innuendo, is grotesque-looking and obnoxious, and Tsuda is barely a factor at all. There's some laughs mined from J's (West's) recoiling at Morishita's advances, but those are juiced by a repeated music cue. These bits come off like following the guys in that middle segment of Go who didn't have any adventures, and it barely brushes against the other stories until the end, and that's the one that really feels forced.

And, finally, there's Vinnie Jones as "Jimmy Funky Knife" and Yoshiyoshi Arakawa as Katagiri, who translates for him. Since I'm writing for a primarily English-language audience, Jones is probably the most familiar actor, and the funny thing for us anglophones is that one we almost need to read the subtitles to see what he's saying - not because of a cockney accent or anything, but because Katagiri starts translating just as soon as Jimmy starts talking, and speaks louder than the raspy-voiced Jones. He's a powder keg, demanding an answer to his existential question and exploding at anyone who asks him a question in return. He's surprisingly amiable when he likes the answer someone gives, though. Arakawa also gives a fine comic performance, his characters' translations becoming less literal as he realizes that Jimmy doesn't understand Japanese and their customers don't understand English. The decision to have him whisper answers in Jimmy's ear works not only to keep us from dealing with broken English, but adds a slight mystery later in the movie. And their office - which says "Hitmen" on the door - is almost as fanciful design as Ishigaki's house.

Note: all names are taken from the official site's handy-dandy (but tiny!) chart at http://ss5.goo.ne.jp/story.html, since few are actually mentioned in the movie; any typos are mine. I suggest not visiting that page before actually seeing Survive Style 5+, since it charts relationships and encounters throughout the movie. None of the stories exactly merge, but they become nicely tangled - it's not spoiling too much to say that Yoko's boyfriend is the hypnotist whose show the Kobayashis attend about a half hour in, although who shows up next might be (and you've already figured it out, haven't you?).

It may be a slight weakness that the fanciful final scene only ties the threads together weakly - I kind of would have liked to see them either go their separate ways or have a single, strong conclusion. But that's a minor complaint, I feel, compared to the extremely entertaining two hours that precede it. It's a fast-paced movie that jumps between a lot of characters, and uses a lot of MTV-era filming and editing techniques, but doesn't feel overly frantic. Indeed, given how snarky and cynical some of the plotlines lend themselves to being, the prevailing feeling is somewhat sweet and melancholy.

And that doesn't feel wrong, despite the black comedy that much of the film consists of. This movie isn't perfect, but it is something special.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11901&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/22/05 16:46:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/21/10 T Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest. Adapt to change or die 5 stars
11/19/06 n3t great fun. a must see, even thou I`m not comedy fan (more into Lynch...) 4 stars
8/18/06 Matt Riley The film was not only amazingly entertaining but took talent and time to create. 5 stars
8/14/05 Christine Hosie love anything T. Asano does, sweeeeet 5 stars
7/25/05 Suke Asian films like this are so fresh and innovative! Kamikaze Girls is also excellent! 4 stars
7/12/05 lissa frances utterly unique, vibrant, funny, touching, wacky film. best two hrs of my week. 5 stars
5/14/05 Otger Funny, Original and very creative 5 stars
4/17/05 mina great sets! GREAT fun! fluffy b-movie freak out 5 stars
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Directed by
  Gen Sekiguchi

Written by
  Taku Tada

  Tadanobu Asano
  Reika Hashimoto
  Vinnie Jones
  Sonny Chiba
  Kyoko Koizumi
  Hiroshi Abe

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