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on 15 March 2006
Vital is a dark twisted and ultimately touching story from Shinya Tsukamota (Tetsuo, A Snake of June). Upon first hearing about this movie and its plot I was expecting it to be yet another Asian horror flick so I wasn’t really anticipating its release. Then I discovered that it was directed by Tsukamota so naturally I tried to find a copy as soon as possible. After finally watching the movie I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was more drama than horror.
Takagi (Tadanobu Asano – Last Life in the Universe, Ichi the Killer) is a med student who awakens in hospital with amnesia after being involved in a car accident. Although Takagi can’t remember the details of his life he still retains the skills and knowledge of medicine. With this seeming to be the only link to his past he decides to enrol at the local med school to try and continue his life. As he goes through school with no real connection to the world around him he has very little progress in recalling his lost memories. However, when partaking in a group dissection he soon realises that the cadaver in front of him is that of his dead girlfriend who was killed in the same car crash he was in. As Takagi begins to probe deeper into the corpse he starts to unlock memories from his past and rapidly becomes obsessed with it...
If you’re a fan of Shinya Tsukamota then you might be shocked to find that this movie doesn’t involve any strange metallic devices attached to people’s bodies and that the film shoot in a full array of different colours. This is still a Shinya Tsukamota film though and he still sticks to the similar topics that are present in his other work. Like his other films Tsukamota’s main plot revolves around the study of the human body to try to find a deeper meaning to life (this film actually involves exploring inside the human body). Considering this you would expect this movie to be filled with all kinds of gruesome images of the corpse yet Tsukamota restrains himself and only uses these images when absolutely necessary. Again, as in his previous work, all the images Tsukamota puts on screen have a meaning and are used as the main driving force behind the story. For example in the real world the environment is dull and lifeless yet for the memories of Takagi’s past the setting is bright and vivid. This helps reinforce the fact that in the real world Takagi is an empty emotionless shell with no sense of belonging or purpose yet in the flashbacks he is more at ease and emotionally active. This leads me to the cast who all put on outstanding performances but it’s Tadanobu Asano who is the most impressive as always.
The disc has great picture and sound quality as usual for Tartan’s recent releases. It also got loads of extras such as behind the scenes, making the props, director interviews, commentary (although not by the director which is slightly disappointing) and a music video.
This is certainly one of the more interesting and unique movies that Tartan Asian Extreme have released in the past few months. If you’re a fan of Tsukamota and enjoyed his other film ‘A Snake of June’ then I’m sure you’ll love this movie, if not or you’ve never heard of him then give this a try, you might be pleasantly surprised. Overall Vital is a dark stylish film about love, loss, death and discovery. From the bewildering images at the beginning to the awe inspiringly touching ending this for me is Asian cinema at its best.
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on 18 February 2006
This is the second time I'm saying this. You're not likely to find a more complete masterpiece around than this film. Not Wook, not Miike, nobody in world arthouse could have delievered a film like this. Inside out. From heart to soul to heart again. Dissecting humanity and coming from a director who's spent his career looking at evolution. Beautiful. Moving. Perfectly acted. And even better that nobody took any notice of it so, therefore, it's not overrated or hyped up.

Bogdan Tiganov - author of The Wooden Tongue Speaks- Romanians: Contradictions & Realities
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on 30 October 2007
Shinya Tsukamoto is a director best known for his violent, hard-hitting and heavily industrial-influenced art-dramas, such as the 1988 cult-classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man and it's somewhat poorly received 1991 follow up Tetsuo II: Body Hammer. These films are placed alongside his two contemporary masterpieces, Tokyo Fist and A Snake of June. Whereas those films were fast, furious and hyper-kinetic affairs, punctuated by grainy cinematography, punch-drunk editing and a soundtrack of jarring industrial noise, Vital finds the maverick filmmaker in a slightly more poetic and philosophical mood; creating a slow and lingering film that looks at the notions of love and loss through the eyes of a central character trying to both understand and come to terms with the death of his free-spirited former lover.

As with much of Tsukamoto's work, the film is rich in visual symbolism and texture, with the opening scene disorientating us with a kaleidoscopic montage of four industrial chimney-stacks pumping smoke into an overcast sky. Later on, after enrolling in a medical course at his local college, our protagonist will witness four bodies being dissected, including, surprisingly enough, that of the central character's deceased love. This is the central arch of the story and the location where much of the film unfolds, with Tadanobu Asano's character Takagi piecing his life back together as he literally picks apart the body of his former lover and comes to terms with his own role in the loss of her life. As you can probably imagine from a story of this nature, the film is incredibly slow-moving and deliberately paced, with Tsukamoto juxtaposing the coldness of Takagi existence of continual study and cultural isolation with the rich, warm vibrancy found in that of his late girlfriend's wild and unfettered existence on an island paradise that may or may not exist only within the fragmented mind of Takagi himself.

The scenes of Takagi and his fellow medical students dissecting the rotting flesh and hollowed bones of the four symmetrically positioned corpses is sympathetically handled, with the director creating a mood of unease through the use of a sickly yellow lighting filter, so that the film manages to create an air of queasiness and uncertain anxiety without having to show anything too explicit. There are further examples of Tsukamoto using the lighting and cinematography to underpin the emotions of the character within other areas of the film, for example, the scenes in which Takagi works on his studies or reminisces about the ghosts of his life, pre-accident, are bathed in a cool blue that recalls the cold and clinical cinematography of A Snake of June, which again, brings out the sense of cold alienation central to the character's life. These colour-coded motifs are further juxtaposed by the bright and vividly beautiful colours found on the island that Takagi dreams of, recreating or reliving a brief moment of transcendence with a lover he'll never again reclaim.

Vital is quite an anomaly within Tsukamoto's career thus far; standing out a slower, more deliberate and more poetic work with the emphasis placed on human emotions as opposed clinical psychology. There are still the various recurring themes on display, for example, the obsession with the fragility and the limitations of the human body; something that has been explored and exploited throughout Tsukamoto's work from Tetsuo through to Tokyo Fist and beyond to Vital and A Snake of June. As I mentioned previously in this review, the pace of Vital is slow and deliberate throughout, whilst the overall tone of the film is dreamlike and filled with uncertain. Many will no doubt find it a little dull and perhaps even boring, but many others will perhaps appreciate the believable characterisations and the rich compassion and emotion that Tsukamoto brings to the script, especially when coupled with the captivating cinematography, evocative music and air of metaphysical mystery.
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on 12 March 2009
Asano is fantastic in this movie, drifting through most of it with a palpable dissociation from the world around him. This is not a horror film, nor even a ghost story as such but more of a "magic realist" love story. Well acted, occasionally confusing, not fully explained but never unconvincing, I would recommend this to anyone who has the patience for movies that unfold steadily but gradually.
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on 19 September 2011
Everything about 'Vital' is done delicatley and evocatively, from the tender portrayal of memory loss, to the dissection of bodies, right through to it's touching climax in which that very last scene pulls each of the film's subtle strands together very touchingly.

A horror film it isn't, so forget the 'Tartan Extreme' connotations. Instead we have a unique storyline about love, loss, angst and the re-buiding of life after loss.

When first watching 'Vital' I didn't quite get the full picture. I watched it again and truly loved it! The acting is first class, the direction tender and thoughtful, the imagery throughout gentle, yet powerful. This really is a stunning film.

Thankfully 'Vital' isn't a film that is too clever for it's own good, but is hard to pin down as it meanders through many a genre. Look at it as a poem on screen; you may benefit from a second viewing too though, as for me, many of it's more subtle messages come through after another viewing.

I loved 'Vital' and would recommend it highly to anyone (except those thinking we have another 'Extreme' on our hands).

Excellent film and worthy of all the 5* reviews it gets.
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on 17 April 2006
Over the past few months the revered tartan asia extreme label has sad to say, for me anyway, been very disapointing. Mostly releasing a bunch of mediocre horrors all imitating the style of ring director hideo nakata, and a load of stylish and yet boring thrillers which are more in the style of your average hollywood b*****ks than anything else... fortunaley though there have been one or two releases which remind you of just why japanese and south korean films are the best in the world, and this is one of them. stunningly beautiful filming, strong emotionally charged acting and a story thats pretty damn confusing and yet still draws you in and completely immerses you in its atmosphere. classic japanese cinema in other words! i was so surprised at the beauty of the filming, obviously benefitting from a bigger budget than shinya's other movies.. The wonderfully gifted todanobu asano is obviously awesome in this movie, rivalling his breathtaking performance in 'last life in the universe.' With an original story line, wonderful acting and fabulous directing, vital is one of those movies you will be thinking about long after the final credits, both unravelling the story interpreting it in your own way, and remembering some of the unique imagery involved.. I wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of snake of june and others such as last life in the universe, david lynch's mulholland drive and at a push some of the finer moments of miike takeshi's outings, and to all those who are not after a load of action or shocks in their films but beautiful filming, perplexing, original and thought provoking storylines, and wonderful, compelling acting. PLease PLease PLease watch it!!!
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on 14 January 2007
I'm a big fan of Asian cinema and was looking forward to taking a look at this film after having read some great reviews about it. The problem is that theres something seriously wrong with the sub-title option on the disc, most of the dialogue seems to be missing from the screen.Many of the scenes have no subs at all, some will have an ocassional half-finished sentence thrown in just to give me false hope, but no-where is there an entire sub-titled conversation.There's not an option to change the soundtrack from Japanese to English (something i usually prefer to avoid anyway ) so basically i've no idea what anyone is saying. Seeing as this film seems to be quite complex,not knowing whats being said makes the whole thing pointless to watch.Which is a shame because, as said in previous reviews, the film looks fantastic and would surely warrant a better star rating from me.However as a usable product its rubbish.As a quality piece of cinema, i hope to find out one day.
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