For the first installment of Under the Radar, we will look at Gen Sekiguchi’s Japanese release, Survive Style 5+ (2004).
The film’s limited release in English-speaking countries has long accounted for its lack of presence in cult-film circles. In fact, it was some time before you could purchase a version with accurate subtitles in the US or UK. Why Palisades Tartan/Asia Extreme label or any other major distributor has not picked up and promoted this film is a mystery. However, at least now you can purchase it through Amazon and other popular online vendors.
A film as unique as its name.
First time feature-film director Gen Sekiguchi dazzles us with a colorful tapestry of upbeat music, elaborate costumes, meticulous sets, and oddball characters. The narrative follows the stories of several different and mostly unrelated characters: following the romance of two misfit boys, a woman who makes offensively bad TV commercials, a man who repeatedly kills his wife, only to have her come back to life each time, and a man who thinks he’s a bird (as well as a few more). How do these stories relate you ask? Well, they don’t really, which is part of what makes it so much fun. This film doesn’t aim to be taken seriously and I would advise against it, so that you can better enjoy the offbeat hijinks that the Japanese do so well.
Although the film is zany and over the top, it is tightly knit and the art direction in particular is incredible. Every scene is painstakingly designed, decorated, and toned. The rooms of Aman’s (Tadanobu Asano) house are reminiscent of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland or a carnival fun house. Spades and colorfully surreal art line the walls. His wife’s costumes are also fanciful and over the top. In fact, each time she comes back we look forward to seeing what she is wearing. Every part of the film holds this attention to detail: über colorful and inventive. Makoto Shiguma’s sweeping cinematography and deep-staged shots function well to illuminate the heavy stylization of this film.
Tadanobu Asano’s performance as Aman and his overall understated acting style I’ve come to love, works well in this film. The interaction between him and his girlfriend, who is played by the lovely Reika Hashimoto, is especially awkward and magical. There are also some fun cameos, such as Vinnie Jones (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) as a hired hitman, and Sonny Chiba (a million martial arts movies) as a marketing executive. Ittoku Kishibe’s performance as the ‘birdman’ is also humorous and spot on, although quite silly.
This film makes no attempt to soften its peculiarly quirky and over the top situational humor. It pokes fun at taboos and plays with ideas of what is important in life. This is a movie bound to make its way further into the cult archives; it is bizarre, original, beautiful, confusing, and altogether hilarious. Take my advice and check this one out.
Let me know what you think and keep an eye out for my next installment of Under the Radar (assuming you enjoy my suggestion).
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