Survive Style 5 Review
Survive Style 5+ is, on a few different levels, one odd little film. Dressed up as an absurdist, hyper stylized comedy the film proves to have some serious art house aspirations. Far less manic in tone than the trailers and synopsis would have you believe, the film is a multi layered experiment in metaphor and narrative structure dealing - in wildly surreal terms - with the creation and destruction of different relationships and the consequences thereof.
Does it work? Not entirely ... the serious ambitions undercut some of the wild humor while the tongue in cheek tone sometimes takes away from the serious goals. There are moments when it needs to more fully commit to exactly what sort of film it wants to be. But when it's on it is ON, coming across as a much funnier and more thoughtful, distinctly Japanese take on Tim Burton.
The film tracks five simultaneous, loosely linked plot lines. There is the man - played by Tadanobu Asano - who keeps killing his wife and burying her in the woods only to find her alive, well, very angry, and waiting for him when he returns home. There is the ad exec who has taken out a hit on her insensitive stage hypnotist boyfriend following one too many insults. There is the 'perfect family' disrupted when the father is permanently hypnotized to believe he is a bird. There is the trio of aimless youth passing the time by burglarizing houses. And, finally, there is Vinnie Jones as the imported hitman whose strangely philosophical bent provides the dominant theme linking all of these people together.
Yep. You read that right. It is Vinnie Jones, essentially reprising the thuggish persona that made him famous in Guy Ritchie's films albeit less convincingly here, who stands in the center of the film. His cold hearted violence has a dramatic impact on every other major character while his strange fixation on people's "function" is the obvious starting point to unpacking the film's meaning.
The film plays out in a series of set pieces and while they often have a hard time coming together in a coherent whole many of them stand brilliantly on their own strengths. Keep an eye out for the many returns of the slain wife - particularly the initial kung fu driven appearance and the subsequent post-dismemberment and post-incineration sequences. The ad exec's glaringly inappropriate commercial concepts are unfailingly hysterical as is the scene of the 'perfect family' driving down the highway, bobbing their heads in unison and singing along to a hugely vulgar english language punk rock song which they clearly don't understand. The post-hypnotism bird-father is good for a number of laughs as well as a surprising number of the film's more tender moments. Sonny Chiba's too-brief appearance as the insecure, hen pecked head of a pharmaceutical firm is also a solid plus.
Beyond simply looking fantastic the wildly stylized world of the film is an obvious reminder not to take things too literally. This may look something like the real world, the film is saying, but it is not. Toss your preconceptions at the door. Take things at face value and you get a jumbled batch of set pieces with little bearing on one another. Take things as metaphor and you get a look at the emotional devastation of a pointlessly broken relationship, a child's unwavering love for his father, the importance of being true to youself, and, ultimately, the key point that 'function' means absolutely nothing when it comes to the people we care about.
The odd fusion of approaches means that the characters - who are, after all, meant to serve more as images than flesh and blood people - can come across quite flat at times and the film felt rather disjointed until being pulled together thematically in the final pair of sequences. It has its flaws, yes, but the flaws are compelling ones born out of too much ambition and I'll take that over competent predictability any day.