Survive Style 5+ (2004)
What is your function in life?
Answer quick, or Vinnie Jones might kill you! Of course, he might kill you anyway - he's a British hitman brought over to Japan by a "killing agency" at the request of a client (foreign workmanship is superior, apparently).
The story of Vinnie and his agent-translator is one of 5-ish stories in Japanese film SURVIVE STYLE 5+. In a way it's his story that weaves them all together, though each story touches the other in small ways - small enough that it could easily have been done as 5 independent shorts, but that wouldn't have been as clever or as cool... and SURVIVE STYLE 5+ is all about being clever and cool. And sometimes quite silly :P
This is the first feature film from director Gen Sekiguchi, who has previously made a living directing Commercial Movies (better known as Adverts to you & me, I expect).
As such, it features the kind of stylish visuals and editing that directors usually bring from the advertising world, along with the quirky characters and surrealist moments that you only seem to get from Japan.
The other stories in the film include a salaryman who takes his family to see a hypnotist, and the hypnotist's lover who is becoming disillusioned with her job designing Commercial Movies, and 3 young lads who burgle the family's house whilst they are away. The most memorable story is actually the one that's least related to the others, and most anachronistic in terms of style and content - Tadanobu Asano decides he wants to kill his wife, but she doesn't want to die. Or at least not to stay dead.
SURVIVE STYLE 5+ is all shot in hi-def digital, which people keep telling me is "the future". The crisp, rich colours of the film show why this format is likely to be "the future", as they are easily a match for traditional film - at a fraction of the budget. Having the images in digital form from the start means that special effects can be added more easily, and editing can all be performed in digital editing suites - perfect for the kind of cool, stylish visuals that this sort of film needs. And the low budget its makers presumably had to work with :)
The film is more character-driven than plot driven, with a diverse mix of characters who are all a little strange (or a lot strange). The cast all fit their characters to a tee, though Vinnie Jones does feel a little out of place - which is not surprising as he's the only Englishman in a quintessentially Japanese film... and besides, Vinnie Jones probably seems out of place wherever he is.
The situations the characters find themselves in range from the tragic to the absurd, and the basic message of the film is encapsulated by the use of a rocky cover of "I will survive" towards the end. Essentially it's a feel-good film, and the message is that if you think your life stinks you might just need to find a perspective from which it doesn't look so bad. It's not a sugary happy-happy film by any measure though.
The reason this film will have come to many people's attention (mine included) is because of the presence of Tadanobu Asano. He turns in another effortlessly cool performance, full of world-weariness, with only a few lines in the whole film. His character is reminiscent of those he played in Last Life in the Universe and Woman Of Water, and I suspect fans of the former will be particularly pleased with this film.
There's also a fun little role for Sonny Chiba, who shows that gift for comedy he seems to have developed in his maturity (or kept will hidden in his youth).
The other cast member that's sure to make an impression is the actress who plays Tadanobu Asano's wife. She has even less lines than Tads (exactly none, in fact), but her stunning looks and her memorable character say plenty for her.
Given the nature of the film, it can't be said to rest on any one member of the cast, since it's carried equally by a good 8-10 people. The real star of the film is the director and his crew, and the gorgeous visuals they use to frame their characters and their tales. The film's whimsical nature and super-stylisation mean it won't be appreciated by everyone, but it's sure to get a 'cult' following, and there are bound to be quite a few people out there that are already looking forward to Gen Sekiguchi's next feature-length offering.