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Survive Style 5 (2004)
10th Jul 06
A man kills his wife only to see her return from the grave time and time again. An advertising executive loses her tape recorder containing all of her original ideas. A salaryman takes his family to a hyponist’s show and comes home believing that he’s a bird. A group of young burglars wrestle with their unspoken feelings towards one another. An international hit man arrives in town on business.
Comedy, violence, sadness, beauty and perversion abound as five interweaving storylines collide in this vibrant movie from the land of extreme cinema.
Review “What is your function in life?” growls the hit man (Jones) menacingly to everyone he meets. Well, right now my function is to try and make some kind of sense of this kaleidoscope of images and characters that Survive Style 5+ presents.
Hollywood has long been cashing in on the Far East’s industry for scary long-haired schoolgirls, now it seems that Japan is taking something back with this, a movie influenced – in structure at least – by the success of such critically acclaimed films as Crash, Magnolia and Pulp Fiction. Like all of the aforementioned titles, Survive Style 5+ employs the use of multiple storylines which all criss-cross as the film unfolds.
Each thread has a sense of the absurd to it, with real people placed into increasingly wacky situations. “As a killer it’s impossible not to complete the killing,” muses Ishigaki (Asano) in voiceover as we see him stood beside a shallow grave for his pretty wife Mimi (Hashimoto), repeatedly whacking her over the head with a large spade. Quite why he’s killed is wife is unsaid, but his problem now is that each time he returns home she’s there waiting for him with weapons of her own, be it household items like cutlery or a picture frame, or – more bizarrely – her own missile-guided arms and fiery breath. The time has come for Ishigaki to hire a hit man…
…The very same hit man that Yoko (Koizumi) – an advertising executive who firmly believes that all ads should be funny and who records all of her ideas onto a Dictaphone whenever they pop into her head - hired one week earlier to bump off her rude boyfriend Aoyama (Abe), a popular stage hypnotist. Unfortunately for salary man Kobayashi and his loving family, Aoyama’s demise takes place during one of his performances, just after Kobayashi has been hypnotised into believing that he’s a bird. You’re right, that could be rather awkward for his family.
Meanwhile, as the Kobayashi family are enduring their eventful night out their house is invaded by a gang of three bungling young lads, full of youthful energy and enthusiasm. Tsuda is the sensible one, J is the cocky, confident one, and Morishita… well, ever since an ‘incident’ with his older sister he’s gone off the ladies and developed a bit of a crush on J, even sporting a neck chain with his name on it. Later, when the burglars retire to a local sauna, Morishita makes the mistake of attempting to share his weak jokes with one of the sauna’s other clients, a customer with rather violent tendencies…
On paper it sounds like something that could have spewed forth from the mind of Takashi Miike but on screen the more excessive elements of the plot are reigned in and the action is actually far more restrained than one might imagine. Aside from Aoyama’s gushing artery there’s very little bloodletting, with the majority of violence being displayed in a more subtle or comedic manner. In fact the film has a playful tone throughout, with some neat recurring motifs; each time Morishita gazes longingly at J the Erasure-esque song “Come Baby” fades in on the soundtrack, and whenever Yoko gets an idea for an advert she blinks repeatedly and we’re given a visual interpretation of her latest brainwave. For example, a face on a circular drinks coaster inspires her to imagine a man with two faces arguing with himself in a series of ads for ‘Monkey Records’. Yoko always chuckles away at these ideas, but the chairman (Chiba) is less than impressed at her frivolity, too often distracted by phone alls from his incompetent wife.
It’s perhaps no surprise then to discover that first time director Gen Sekiguchi and writer Taku Tada cut their teeth on commercials together before embarking on this bold adventure. Watching Survive Style 5+ it soon becomes clear that the most important word in the title is ‘style’ as Sekiguchi displays this in abundance.
In addition to the aforementioned adverts, he uses many other inventive visual tricks within the movie including a horse which gallops as its picture is thrown across the room by Mimi, and a slow-motion attack on Ishigaki soundtracked by an explicit Japanese punk song which is then intercut with Kobayashi’s family head banging to the same song in their car.
This is certainly one of the prettiest looking films that you’ll ever see, with each scene meticulously designed to include as much colour as possible; whether it’s Ishigaki’s house, Morishita’s VW camper van, Kobayashi’s kitchen or Aoyama’s ‘Viva Friends’ stage, nearly every location is littered with splashes of blue, green, yellow and red – lighting, artefacts, clothes, food, wallpaper, everything is patterned or coloured to give a rich, decadent look to the film. Repeated viewings allow the viewer to appreciate just how much detail has gone into the production design. It’s a remarkable achievement and is likely to be the overriding memory that will remain with you long after the credits have rolled.
After his questionable casting in X Men: The Last Stand it’s something of a relief to see Vinnie Jones back playing another hard man, and by now he’s perfectly adept at looking mean and bellowing orders. Hey, he even gets to shout at a floret of broccoli in this film!
It’s good to see Tadanobu Asano too, in my opinion the finest contemporary Japanese actor of our generation, lending his talents to another genre piece, but here he’s rather wasted in a largely non-speaking role. The acting plaudits in this picture deserve to go to Ittoku Kishibe who as Kobayashi gives a strangely affective, gentle portrayal of the man who thinks he’s a bird, cooing and flapping his arms, staring longingly at the skies outside.
It’s Kobayashi’s story that best conveys the film’s overriding message of acceptance that we can survive and adapt to the life changing events that occur in our everyday lives. It’s a sentiment expressed simply by Kobayashi’s young son to his mother as they watch him at play, “My dad’s still my dad, but he’s also a bird… like a cartoon hero.”
By the time Ishigaki and Kobayashi finally cross paths to the fitting accompaniment of Cake’s cover version of “I Will Survive” you can’t help but smile at the film’s audacious conclusion.
Versions Survive Style 5+ is available on DVD with English subtitles, recently released here in the UK on the Manga label. The Region 2 DVD also includes a ‘making of’ featurette and the theatrical trailer.