utorak, 21. kolovoza 2012.

Gen Sekiguchi - Survive Style 5+ (2004)

Survive Style 5+

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It's ensemble fever! With Sin City from Hollywood and A Day on the Planet from Japan, ensemble films seem to be all the rage these days. One of the craziest of them all is Survive Style 5+, the feature debut from award-winning commercial directors Gen Sekiguchi (as director) and Taku Tada (as screenwriter). The two men have concocted one of the most manic and - to an equal degree - nonsensical feature debuts in years, and it's not a bad movie to boot.
Survive Style 5+ consists of five interweaving and irrelevant stories. 1) Aman (cult favorite Tadanobu Asano) had just killed his wife (Reika Hashimoto) and buries her in the forest. He returns to their house, only to find her sitting at the kitchen table alive and well - and that's just the beginning. 2) Yoko (Kyoko Koizumi, presumably not related to the prime minister) is a commercial executive who constantly amuses herself with her zany commercial ideas that she records into her handy tape recorder. Unfortunately, they fail to impress neither her hypnotist lover (Hiroshi Abe) nor the clients. 3) A businessman just scored rare tickets to see the hypnotist's show with his seemingly perfect family. 4) Vinnie Jones (from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, among others) plays a British hitman who shows up at the hypnotist's show with translator Yoshiyoshi Arakawa and indirectly changes the life of the aforementioned perfect family. 5) Three punks wander around the city breaking into people's houses, but they find bigger problems when sexual confusion is thrown into the mix. And all of this is only the first 15 minutes!
After the initial introductions, you'll probably realize that the film isn't really supposed to make any sense. Survive Style 5+ takes place in an alternate reality where dead people come back to life, people act like birds, hypnotists can thrust their hips obscenely on stage, an Englishman can harass a stewardess without air marshals involved, and an entire family can pull a Wayne's World sing-along in the car with f-bombs. Serious and sometimes violent events do happen, but the film is really about how the characters deal with these events in a very eccentric style. When you have someone's fist rocketing across the room, you know the movie is meant to be amusing, not thought-provoking.
Amidst the chaos, there are still moments where you see the absurdity of our own reality reflected in Survive Style 5+. Yoko's amusing but strange "imagined CMs" (which are more about entertainment than selling things) are biting commentaries on advertisements today, and the lessons the film teaches about life aren't exactly out of this world either. Survive Style 5+ isn't meant to be life-changing stuff, but it does get a good point in here or there to make it worth your time.
Meanwhile, performances are fine across the board, and most of the actors seem game to take part in whatever Sekiguchi throws at them. However, Vinnie Jones, the sole foreigner in the cast and the only character whose lines get spoken twice (once in English, and once in Japanese by his "translator"), looks understandably awkward whenever he's onscreen.
With the huge cast and crazy premise, the film could've been a mess with an amateur filmmaker trying to juggle the five storylines. But Sekiguchi and Tada wisely don't attempt to give every story equal screen time; some stories take more time to develop, and some play out over just a few scenes. This makes the stories somewhat unbalanced, but the narrative flows, and the film actually feels like a coherent whole rather than the sum of five different stories put together. However, by the time the ending arrives, some of the stories feel unresolved. Then again, after two hours of the craziness and fun offered by Survive Style 5+, it's doubtful whether anyone cares about resolutions and story arcs.
One thing people will care about in Survive Style 5+ is the cinematography. For the lack of a better word, it's simply gorgeous. Everything is lighted to an excess, and colors are all over the spectrum. This gives the look of the whole film an artificial feeling that is not only beautiful to look at, but also extremely unique in Japanese cinema. The production design also matches the cinematography perfectly; from the businessman's model-like house to the European décor of Asano's house, every aspect of the production design seems to tell the viewers they're not in Kansas anymore.

Survive Style 5+ may be a pretty film, but it doesn't offer much in the way of logical explanations, so it's obviously not a film for everyone. Nevertheless, Survive Style 5+ is ultimately an impressive film unto itself, and even more so as a debut. Sekiguchi exudes a rare sense of confidence for a first-time director, and I can imagine that his unique, yet Japanese style will find many fans at film festivals around the world. Most importantly, Survive Style 5+ (along with Kazuaki Kiriya's Casshern) may also tell the world that there is hope after all for commercial and music video directors who want to make it in the movies. Michael Bay: it's time to learn a lesson or two. (Kevin Ma 2005) - Kevin Ma

Jeremy over at Moon In The Gutter has been paying tribute all month to films that are not available on Region 1 DVD. I don't have much to contribute since I mostly see R1 discs, but one example of a film I'd love to see get wider distribution in North America would be Gen Sekikuchi's 2004 burst of energy "Survive Style 5+".
I've mentioned the film before, but it bears repeating. It was one of the most fun cinema experiences I've had over the last few years (I can only imagine how much better it would have been with more than just the 7 people who were in the theatre) and I've been dying to see it again since then. It's essentially 5 separate stories about different people dealing with some major curveballs from life and their different styles of surviving. Yes, that is indeed Vinnie Jones amongst an otherwise completely Japanese cast. Sonny Chiba also makes an appearance as does the terrific Tadanobu Asano.
The pace is fast as the stories cut between each other and overlap characters. The humour ranges from completely absurd to extremely dark - a hypnotized man behaves like a chicken, a wife keeps coming back from the dead (with different abilities each time), a British hitman and his interpreter accost people and mini-commercials are scattered throughout. The colour schemes alone (especially in the first story with Asano) are a visual treat.

Apparently since the film only got music rights for release in Japan, it's not likely to be found in Region 1 anytime soon. I've posted the trailer before, so here's an extended scene from the film. Having just killed and buried his wife, Asano's character returns home to find...his wife. It builds quite slowly, but stay with it:
I expect that I'll get myself that region free player this year simply so that I can get the version of this DVD that's out there (the Region 2 has English subtitles). And I'll be all smiles at that point.
- eternalsunshineofthelogicalmind.blogspot.com

"Survive Style had me for its first half. I was laughing and having a great time. However, at around an hour, it started to feel repetitive. At about an hour and 15 minutes, I started to wonder if some of the plotlines were ever going to go anywhere. After two hours, I wanted Tadanobu Asano’s wife to just stay dead, and most of the rest of the cast to join her.
Much like the superior Snatch, from which it borrows the intimidating Vinnie Jones, Survive Style follows several sets of characters as their quasi-related plotlines twist in and around on each other. However, unlike Snatch (or the films of Sabu, which share a similar structure), the connections are rarely particularly interesting or edifying (with the conclusion being a notable exception).
Survive Style 5+
The storylines initially appear unrelated. Tadanobu Asano repeatedly kills and buries his seemingly mute wife, only to have her come back to life time after time and attack him, sometimes with supernatural powers. A middle-aged adwoman must deal with her total jackass of a celebrity hypnotist boyfriend (think David Copperfield + David Blaine multiplied by one hundred) and also has fantasies of bizarre commercials inspired by those around her. A “Leave it to Beaver”-type family attends the hypnotist’s show, only to be thrown into turmoil when the hypnotist convinces the salaryman father that he is a bird. Meanwhile, three … idiots, for lack of a better word, drive around and rob houses, while dealing with one’s crush on another. Finally, Vinnie Jones of British gangster movie fame stalks Tokyo with his nebbishy translator, accosting people, asking existential questions, and occasionally assaulting cast members.
Survive Style 5+Survive Style 5+
Many of the individual scenes are wonderful - the increasingly outré powers of Asano’s wife (limb detachment, flame breath), Vinnie Jones confronting a confused stewardess, the sheer outrageous spectacle of the hypnotist’s show. Asano (the hardest working man in show business today) makes his cipher of a character interesting just by virtue of being Tadanobu Asano, one of the reasons why he’s such a fantastic actor. The bird-brained father is a one-note joke, but it is a very funny note, and he’s played perfectly by Ittoku Kishibe. Up to a point, the whimsy and the insanity are a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, Survive Style is so long and repetitive that eventually all the fun drains away, leaving only tedium. When the movie shifts gears somewhere in the third act and attempts to become more serious and metaphorical, it stalls out for lack of characters that we care about, despite a few good emotional scenes (for a much better example of an effective shift in tone, see Nobody Knows or Running on Karma). The ending comes very close to genius, except the movie does not warrant the emotional crescendo of the closing images.
Certain of the storylines simply fail. Aside from a cheap (but funny) running gag based on the homoerotic attraction of one gang member to another, none of the scenes involving the youths works at all. Eventually the plotline ends with all the subtlety of a bad Saturday Night Live sketch. The adwoman’s storyline is more of an excuse for the filmmakers (who have an advertising background) to produce some clever joke commercials than anything essential to the movie. The always-great Sonny Chiba is good, but wasted, in a pointless and unoriginal cameo as a businessman who is the target of the adwoman’s sales pitch.
Survive Style 5+On top of that, some of the comedy is lifted from other, and frequently better, films. Sekiguchi puts in at least two homages to Kubrick, including name-checking The Shining, and a sped-up sequence referencing Malcolm McDowell’s classical electronica-scored orgy in A Clockwork Orange. He also borrows from Uma Thurman’s animated “square” in Pulp Fiction, and takes the idea of someone trapped in a hypnotized state used previously in Office Space. Less forgivably, Sekiguchi steals wholesale a scene from an old commercial in which a non-english speaking family in a car sing gleefully along with some rather offensive lyrics (Takashi Miike has been guilty of that too in Happiness of the Katakuris - completely lifting the pencil-rubbing gag from The Big Lebowski).
I will say that the film has a great look to it, with art direction out the wazoo. Every room is jam-packed with colorful and bizarre items (looking a lot like the nostalgia paradise store Love Saves the Day, if you’ve ever spent time in NY’s East Village). The music is also a lot of fun, if a bit repetitive.
I am hesitant to write a bad review of a movie that did entertain me quite a bit for a while, has some great acting and set pieces, and is partially redeemed by the ending. This one is a tough call, and I am tempted to give it 3 stars for being an ambitious good try, but I can not imagine wanting to sit through Survive Style again. Here’s hoping Sekiguchi puts his obvious talent to a better use next time.
Recommended? Not really, but if you’re a fan of bizarre avant-garde hipster cinema, or of Tadanobu Asano (and who isn’t?), Survive Style might be worth a viewing
If you like this, you might like: Aalavandhan, Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts, Happiness of the Katakuris, Pulp Fiction, Swallowtail Butterfly" - © David Austin

"Dear mister Gen Sekiguchi, where the hell did you disappear to? More than 8 years ago you gave us a film that ranks as one of the best Japanese comedies ever produced. Not only that, it's also one of the lushest and vibrant productions to have ever graced a screen. After that ... nothing (apart from a sub par entry in the Quirky Guys And Gals anthology). What a waste of potential, but at least we'll always have Survive Style 5+ to keep us warm.
Sekiguchi comes from an advertising background and it shows. While people like Hiroshi Ishikawa (Tokyo.sora) prefer to mask their commercial occupation, Sekiguchi flaunts it all over the place. Just like one of the characters in this movie Sekiguchi collected a massive amount of left-over ideas while directing ads, all of which he tried to cram in his first feature-length movie. The result is a film that knows little to no creative boundaries, spilling over with cool details and ideas and effectively warranting its 120 minute running time.
Survive Style 5+ is a collection of five separate stories that somehow intertwine along the road. These stories do not lead up to the usual major climax (where all the different arcs would come together), instead the characters from different stories just cross each other's paths during the course of the film. None of these individual stories make much sense, combined they make even less sense, but as a whole they do work together in some strange and almost inexplicable way.
The main arc (or at least the most popular one) is about a man that wants to kill his spouse. Even though he is quite successful, she keeps returning to their home whenever he buries her. Other arcs include the story of an ad director, a successful hypnotizing session turning a man into a bird (permanently), a serial killer asking people about their purpose in life and the adventures of a couple of gay thieves. Like I said before, making sense is clearly not the film's first priority.
Visually speaking Survive Style 5+ is one of the most colorful and detailed films I've ever seen. It is somewhat reminiscent of Wes Anderson's latest projects, though Sekiguchi takes things a lot further. From furniture to clothing and lighting, everything is tailored to perfection. Even the color of the drinks are made to match or contrast with the background. Camera work, lighting and editing are of extremely high quality too, add to that some genuinely creative and well-executed special effects (like the animated horse on a painting that whizzes by) and you have two hours of pure visual splendor.
The soundtrack consists of a selection of tracks I wouldn't give a second listen outside the context of this film, but Sekiguchi incorporates them perfectly well. The music is funny, upbeat and tap-worthy, quite effectively enhancing the light-hearted atmosphere of the film. The "gay" tune and the "headbanging" track are two great examples of how to use music as a defining factor rather than a supporting factor in your film.
The cast too is absolutely stellar. Tadanobu Asano appears in one his best roles to date, flanked by Reika Hashimoto (also his real-life wife). They are assisted by the likes of Hiroshi Abe, Ittoku Kishibe (believe me, it will take a while before you can see him in another film), YosiYosi Arakawa, Sonny Chiba and even Vinnie Jones. But stealing the show is Yoshiyuki Morishita in one of his biggest and boldest parts so far. Casting him as a gay dude is just impossible but Sekiguchi went ahead and did just that. The effect is borderline creepy but also immensely funny.
Survive Style 5+ is a wacky film and for some it may be a little bit too random at times. But even then there is always something that catches the eye. Be it a visual gag, a wonderfully realized setting or a funny idea. The film never drags and the finale is simply perfect, however weird it may be. It's a comedy that works on many levels and most surprisingly even on an artistic level, no matter how goofy some parts may be.
What Sekiguchi realized with Survive Style 5+ is extraordinary. Even though the film lasts 120 minutes it is packed to the brim with little bits of pure genius. A normal director would've spread the material at hand across two or maybe even three films, but Sekiguchi crams everything in one film and manages to keep a good balance throughout. It's a film that gets better with each successive viewing and it ranks as one of my favorites comedies ever.- Niels Matthijs
Survive Style 5+ is quirky, odd, humorous, well-acted, and probably could only ever be made in Japan. This is NOT a film for everyone. Violence, sex, weird humor, and a plot line that loops around on itself, eating it’s own tail… regardless, you are guaranteed to have a truly unique experience with this film. It will leave you speechless and hungering for others to discuss it with.  Survive Style 5+ is the kind of film someone would only enjoy if they also enjoy the complex interconnectedness of Guy Ritchie’s films.
The synopsis kind of breaks down like this, five seperate stories somehow come together: A man kills and buries his wife only to find her alive when he arrives home over and over again. Second, a salaryman, with a wife and two kids, sees a famous hypnotist only to be permanently turned into a man who thinks he’s a chicken. Also an advertising executive loses it and comes up with some of the most vulgar commercials ever seen; A gang of young criminals find out they have homosexual tendencies and lastly, an English assassin looks for new clients. Survive Style 5+ is the kind of film that is rarely made because it is so out of the box that producers and financiers have no interest in taking a chance on it. a little bit like Crash in the sense that there are a lot of different stories that are in the movie and that they all intertwine together in the end. When this movie ended I wasn’t really sure that I had watched, and I really had to think about it before I realized what the movie theme was about.

The way the five different situations are somehow linked or cross paths with each other is silly but believable, in the context of the weirdness of this movie, and the cast is excellent, exceeding my expectations by a mile. If the plot doesn’t interest, the characters and their actors/actresses most definitely will. It is an anime with real actors and real setting, it is a film with cartoon characters and cardboard settings. It is a Kaleidescope, where you watch people and places rather than shifting shapes. Each thread has a sense of the absurd to it, with real people placed into increasingly wacky situations. - japancinema.net

"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.
“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. -  Soulmining

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