Review: Vital (2004)


Director: Shinya Tsukamoto | 83 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Tadanobu Asano, Nami Tsukamoto, Kiki, Kazuyoshi Kushida, Lily, Hana Kino, Gô Rijû, Jun Kunimura, Ittoku Kishibe, Masato Tsujioka

Shinya Tsukamoto is a true all-rounder. For “Vital” he takes on many tasks: he directs, produces, handles the camera, edits, writes the screenplay and composes the music. He also seems to reinvent himself, especially in recent years, with every film. Or rather, he is breaking new ground every time. He became known with the cyberpunk classic “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” (1988), about a man who becomes part machine; made an original, subcutaneous thriller with “Gemini” (1999), which was at the same time half a costume drama; and with “Snake of June” (2002), Tsukamoto delivered an erotic thriller that was a psychological exploration of female sexuality.

Then there is “Vital,” a psychological, Cronenbergian-like drama that focuses on confused, destructive individuals who seek to find mental distraction or satisfaction by seeking (and crossing) physical boundaries. The main characters engage in strangling sex (with the emphasis on strangling) and at a certain point Ryoko wonders, just like the main characters in Cronenberg’s ‘Crash’ (1996), how (nice) it would feel to be in a (car) collision. to make.

It is the way in which the central characters are self-entangled that drives the film and is the main focus of the film, and not the horrors of rooting in a corpse. This aspect of the film is used relatively subtly. Apart from the somewhat unpleasant sounding sound of splitting and sawing the rib cage, which we are confronted with in one particular scene, there is really little cause for shudder. The autopsy scenes are not presented sensationalistically, but simply as a normal practical lesson for medicine students. The intestines are also not captured very much. It is mainly about Hiroshi’s reaction. We see shots of his face (whether or not averted), and of the beautiful anatomical drawings he makes of the body.
It is of course very coincidental that Hiroshi gets the body of his deceased girlfriend to be treated, but the idea of ​​exploring Hiroshi’s inner world and his relationship with Ryoko through this body is very well received. Slowly but surely, he begins to recover fragments of his memory (or dreams), and along with Ryoko’s initially distant parents (because they hold him responsible for their daughter’s death), he also tries to better understand his girlfriend’s life. . When exactly did she get lost, or as her father puts it, when did the light disappear from her? Thus, through the literal dissection of the body, a mental dissection of the psyches of Hiroshi and Ryoko takes place, which is actually the point.

It’s a shame that we never really get a good idea of ​​the psyches of these people. Tadanobu Asano’s Hiroshi is very taciturn and stoic and gives little insight into his own feelings, although the very good acting Asano still manages to convey a surprising amount of humanity and emotions. Ryoko in particular is difficult to fathom. We see her in her extreme physical interactions with Hiroshi and we see her expressing herself in another physical way, namely through expressive dance. In several dream or flashback sequences (that is not entirely clear) she is dancing in a cave and later on the beach, with liberating, but often pain-radiating movements.

A very powerful, emotional part is when at the end of the anatomy period, Hiroshi has to display the body neatly in the chest, with a fan here, and fresh flowers there. Very solemnly, as it should be, he carries out all the parts, together with his fellow students and “their” bodies, but with the addition of a bag of sweets, which he had received from her parents. He takes the box out, along with her family. And at the end, a wonderful moment takes place between Hiroshi and the girl who sought (romantic) rapprochement but found nothing on the matter. He walks up to her, leaning his head gently against her head, eventually saying “sorry” (because he couldn’t respond to her advances).

The film has a pleasant, slow tempo and is beautifully designed. Most of the images have a fairly cold, blue color, which suits the mood of the characters well. The compositions also often reflect the psychological world, with many shots with heads and bodies facing away from each other, which (director) Michelangelo Antonioni (“L” Avventura “(1960),” Blow Up “(1966)) always used a lot.

Too bad about that somewhat distant central relationship. The coda is therefore not as powerful as it could have been. Nevertheless, “Vital” is one has become a very interesting film, and a worthy addition to Tsukamoto’s resume.

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