Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Vital is a film by Shinya Tsukamoto, the man behind two of the craziest films I've seen, Tetsuo: The Iron Man and A Snake of June. Those films all took place in surreal worlds, heavily color tinted and based around symbols in a dreamlike haze. It's difficult to find any sort of character or narrative reality in either of them. The really heavy tinting makes them totally unique films, I've never seen another feature like them.

Vital's still an odd film, but it's much more mainstream than Tsukamoto's other stuff. The film is about Hiroshi's struggle to come to terms with his girlfriend's death. The narrative structure's odd because the entire film is about him letting go, but we start by having him lose all his memories. What this does is align the viewer with Hiroshi, dropped in to this world, unclear about what's going on, and gradually realizing what happened.

The film has a number of incredible editing bits. The opening with the smokestacks is frenetic, and the music used builds up anticipation despite the fact that we're not sure what's going on. The other really cool sequence is when Hiroshi remembers the car crash and his memories flood back in negative.

The film has a few layers of metaphor working. In the real world, Hiroshi is dissecting Ryoko's body and through the process is rediscovering his relationship with her. At the same time, he's living in a dream reality, where he can spend time with Ryoko, but always has to leave at some point, return to the real world.

The film has a heavy layer of sadomasochism, with the choking. When Hiroshi sees Ikumi choking herself, he finds an echo of his relationship with Ryoko. Ryoko clearly shares this self destructive streak, so by forging a relationship with Ikumi, Hiroshi has a chance to atone for Ryoko's death. I like how Hiroshi forgres a relationship with Ryoko's parents, his rediscovery of his memories allows them to rediscover her as well. This relationship was the most emotionally real in all of Tsukamoto's work.

As things end, we realize that Ryoko was aware that she was going to die, but she didn't mind because she had experienced a moment of perfect happiness with Hiroshi. She'd be content to relive their time together all her life, even as she's aware that Hiroshi has to move on to other things.

The film's much more straightforward, less experimental than Tsukamoto's work. It was a lot easier to follow, and was also more emotionally engaging, however it's also less unique. I'm not saying that Tsukamoto should only do really out there stuff, but this is the equivalent of something like Wild at Heart for David Lynch, a film that's about half totally unique and half fairly standard. It's a lot easier to watch this than Snake of June, but it's ultimately less invigorating.

Tsukamoto's work reminds me a lot of Miike's, in the way that more than any American directors he emphasizes image and dream logic over coherent narrative progression. Even though I'm talking about this film like it's a standard film, it's still very ethereal and drifting. I feel like both of these directors are students of psychology, Freud in particular, because they draw on a lot of knowing sexual symbolism. In some respects, the lack of narrative cohesion can be frustrating. Lynch does some crazy stuff, but most of his films can be straightened out into a fairly linear narrative if you work hard enough. However, I would hesitate to come up with a definitive explanation for Gozu or Tetsuo, they're films that don't take place in our world, films that are more about the journey, the image at the moment, than any particular destination.

This film is successful in that it does have a strong emotional closure, and a sense of character and narrative. However, the images and construction just aren't as overwhelming as in Tetsuo or Snake of June. But, I imagine the vast majority of viewers would enjoy this a lot more than either of those two films.

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