Where to begin? I guess I should start at the beginning. I watched this movie, and it is one of the least accessible pieces of fiction that I have yet encountered. I am not someone who needs to have everything spoon fed to me, although there is a point where a film can become too abstract for me to want to try and keep it together. Vital is one of those movies that failed to make an impact on me, and is paced lethargically enough that it seemed to actively want to keep me at arm's length. It is a film that seems to set up an inviting mood, yet progresses in such a clinical fashion that it prevented me from becoming truly involved.
Shinya Tsukamoto did just about everything on the film — producing, directing, writing, editing, art direction, and cinematography. He is a director who is an artist at heart and someone who uses all of the elements that he involves himself in. My only other exposure to his work is the surreal Tetsuo. This movie continues his fascination with the exploration of the body, this time taking it to the level of having an autopsy at the center of a stand-offish, yet very personal, story.
Vital is the story of Hiroshi Takagi (Tadanobu Asano). He has just returned home to rebuild his life, which is more like starting anew. Takagi was in a car accident which claimed the life of his girlfriend, and left him with amnesia. A book on anatomy sparks a desire to enter the medical field, which he does, enrolling in medical school where he excels.
It doesn't take long before things take a strange turn. While Takagi is going to school and rebuilding his life, his anatomy class is dissecting cadavers. The person lying on his table just so happens to be his dead girlfriend. This sets Takagi off on a metaphysical journey to reconnect with her and find himself in the process. He peels back the layers of her flesh searching for her core, and a way to bring himself a bit of peace. Plus there is a lot of choking going on — it was slightly disturbing in that regard.
I am sure there is more to it than that, but the sluggish pacing and the lack of a distinct focus failed to engage me. In the end, I had no desire to dig deeper into the material. Could Tsukamoto be teetering on the borderline between eccentric auteur and arty pretentiousness? Perhaps. I don't know. Sometimes I just do not understand what I watch, why it was made in such a manner. Is the director purposely tryuing to be obtuse? Is the "artiness" just a cover up for a lack of cohesive story, perhaps using the weidness of the piece as a way to discourage criticism, wanting you to think that is is deep and if you don't get it, you aren't smart enough?
Yes, I think that may be going too far, as I do think Tsukamoto has something to say; I just don't have the willpower to shift through and pull it out. With all that said, it is not an entirely worthless venture; there is much to be gleaned from the non-metaphysical portion of the presentation.
Tadanobu Asano givers a mesmerizing performance. There was just something about his stoic, yet charismatic, presence that I found fascinating. Even while I failed to care about the story and the underlying meanings, he had a certain quality that made him worth watching. Then there is the look — the cinematography and art direction were gorgeous — the use of color and weird angles gave Vital a distinctive look that is flat out gorgeous. Lastly, there was the music; none of it was terribly memorable, but I couldn't help but take some emotional cues from it. I found it to be very effective in helping to carry me through.
Audio/Video. Superb. The technical aspects are very good, particularly the video transfer. The look is great, the colors are all well rendered, and I really have nothing to complain about. The video is anamorphic widescreen and audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1.
- Commentary. The track is with author Tom Mes who spent time on the set. I sampled parts of it, and he has a dry delivery, but has a lot of interesting things to say.
- The Making of Vital. Eighteen minutes of behind the scenes and onset footage.
- Behind the Scenes: Venice Premiere. This runs ten minutes and shows the press and reaction to the film.
- Interview. This is a Q&A with Shinya Tsukamoto.
- Special Effects. Ten minutes on the creation of the effects.
- Muic Video. A pop song set to a collection of clips, looks sort of like an extended trailer.
- Theatrical Trailer.
Bottom line. This is hardly, uh, vital viewing, but may be worth a trip for the adventurous, those who like these mind journeys. I generally like them myself, but this one just didn't work for me. Still, it is nice to see films that seek to expand what film can be used to produce. I pronounce this a fascinating failure.