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Survive Style 5+
  |     review    |     availability     |

DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Geneon Entertainment
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English subtitles
Various extras

Year: 2004
Director: Gen Sekiguchi
Writer: Taku Tada
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Reika Hashimoto, Kyoko Koizumi, Hiroshi Abe, Ittoku Kichibe, Yumi Asou, Jai West, Kanji Tsuda, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Yoshiyoshi Awakawa, Vinnie Jones, and Sonny Chiba.
The Skinny: As crazy as it is fun, this feature debut from two commercial industry veterans shows heaps of potential. However, those who like logic in their movies need not apply. Then again, logical Japanese films are a rarity these days anyway.
Kevin Ma:
     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) Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen