×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Vital

Shinya Tsukamoto takes his longstanding fascination with flesh and the human body several steps further in "Vital." Profoundly strange story concerns an amnesiac medical student whose memory of his lost lover is reawakened when her body turns up on his dissection table.

With:
Hiroshi Takagi - Tadanobu Asano Ryoko - Nami Tsukamoto Ikumi - Kiki Dr. Kashiwabuchi - Ittoku Kushida Hiroshi's Father - Kazumi Kushida

Shinya Tsukamoto takes his longstanding fascination with flesh and the human body several steps further in “Vital.” Macabre yet oddly poignant, graphically physical but also metaphysical, clinical yet unexpectedly soulful, this profoundly strange story concerns an amnesiac medical student whose memory of his lost lover is reawakened when her body turns up on his dissection table. No less an acquired taste than the maverick Japanese director’s previous films, this melancholy ghost romance is sufficiently original to warrant niche theatrical exposure en route to specialized DVD release.

Barely surviving an auto accident in which his girlfriend Ryoko (Nami Tsukamoto) was killed, Hiroshi (Tadanobu Asano) is unable to remember his former life. During his convalescence, all that comes back is his love of medicine, prompting him to enroll in medical school. He turns the head of ambitious fellow student Ikumi (Kiki), but Hiroshi remains resistant to her advances.

In anatomy class, as students dissect a human body for the first time, the young female corpse on Hiroshi’s table triggers visits from Ryoko to a place buried deep in his mind. While the supervising doctor (Ittoku Kushida) instructs the class to look for hard facts in their examination, Hiroshi increasingly becomes gripped by these dreamy flashes of memory.

Meticulously peeling back layers of skin and tissue, and sawing through bone, he looks for answers to the woman’s death but also to deeper questions about human consciousness. Ikumi, meanwhile, is increasingly unable to overcome her squeamishness and participate in the class or to compete with Hiroshi’s past. As the pieces gradually fit together, Hiroshi becomes convinced Ryoko has something to tell him before her soul departs.

Tsukamoto creates a distinctive mood by elegantly juxtaposing the cold precision of an anatomical textbook in the dissection scenes and Hiroshi’s obsessive sketches with the elegiac quality of his lost romance with Ryoko.

The narrative at times could be more linear and accessible, but this is justified by the mix of reality with blurred memory, and Hiroshi’s inability to sort the confused timeline in his head. Despite its somewhat extreme nature and enigmatic construction, “Vital” ultimately becomes a haunting drama about the unfathomable line of communication between the dead and the living. As such, it could even join the list of Japanese features in the U.S. remake pipeline, something unlikely to be said about any of Tsukamoto’s more outre previous films.

A virtual one-man band as usual, Tsukamoto produced, directed, wrote, edited, shot and art-directed the film. The look shifts fluidly between cool blue tones and darkness in Hiroshi’s apartment, sterile yellows in the university hospital and warmer, softer shades in Hiroshi’s recollections of Ryoko. Soundtrack effectively blends Chu Ishikawa’s ominous music with ambient noise and elemental sounds of wind, waves and rain, the latter at times casting arresting shadows across the frame.

As the two women vying for Hiroshi’s attentions, film newcomers Nami Tsukamoto and Kiki bring different kinds of ethereal presence, while Asano (“Zatoichi”) holds the drama together with his hypnotically driven, emotionally wounded performance.

Vital

Japan

Production: A Tartan Films release (in U.S.) of a Kaijyu Theater production. (International sales: Gold View, Tokyo.) Produced by Shinya Tsukamoto, Shin-Ichi Kawahara, Keiko Kusakabe, Kiyo Joo. Directed, written, edited by Shinya Tsukamoto.

Crew: Camera (color), Tsukamoto; music, Chu Ishikawa; art director, Tsukamoto; sound (DTS Stereo), Yoshiya Obara. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept. 8, 2004. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Visions.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With: Hiroshi Takagi - Tadanobu Asano Ryoko - Nami Tsukamoto Ikumi - Kiki Dr. Kashiwabuchi - Ittoku Kushida Hiroshi's Father - Kazumi KushidaWith: Lily, Jun Kunimura, Hana Kino, Go Rijyu.

More Film

  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu

    China Box Office: Weekend Chart Dominated By Non-Chinese Films

    Unusually, all of the top five films at the China box office this weekend were non-Chinese. That’s a relatively rare occurrence, as audiences typically favor local films over foreign content. But it is one that may happen more often, as high-performing local titles become fewer and farther between due to production slowdowns. The lack of [...]

  • White Lie

    Playtime Boards Canadian Psychological Thriller 'White Lie' Starring Kacey Rohl (EXCLUSIVE)

    One of France’s leading sales companies, Playtime has boarded “White Lie,” a character-driven psychological thriller film from the promising new Toronto-based directors Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas. Now in post-production, “White Lie” is headlined by Kacey Rohl, who has been seen in hit TV series such as “The Killing,” “Arrow,” “Hannibal” and “Wayward Pines.” Rohl [...]

  • Cannes’ Focus CoPro’ Gives Push for

    Cannes’ Focus CoPro’ Gives Push for First-Time Features

    CANNES–Seven first-feature projects will be pitched to an audience of industry professionals at Focus CoPro’, an event hosted by Cannes’ Short Film Corner that will take place Tuesday May 21 at the Palais des Festivals. The pitching session, which is run in collaboration with Nisi Masa and the Pop Up Film Residency, was introduced last year [...]

  • Cannes: Star Alliance Movies Takes Wide’s

    Cannes: Star Alliance Movies Takes Wide’s ‘Blast’ for China (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES  —  Hong Kong’s Star Alliance Movies has pounced on all rights to China on “Blast,” a race against the clock thriller that marks the first full production from Wide, Loic Magneron’s Paris-based sales-production-distribution company. The deal, made against a background of slowing sales to China, represents the first pre-sale on “Blast,” which is now [...]

  • Brazil’s Cinemascopio, France’s Les Valseurs Team

    Brazil’s Cinemascopio, France’s Les Valseurs Team For Nara Normande, Tião’s ‘The Heron’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES — Recife-based CinemaScópio Produções and Paris’ Les Valseurs have teamed on “A Garça” (The Heron), the feature debut from Brazil’s Nara Normande, co-authored by Tião. Brazilian CinemaScópio is behind Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Brazilian Western-thriller “Bacurau,” in competition at Cannes. Les Valseurs is also presenting Qiu Yang’s short “She Runs” at Critics’ [...]

  • Portrait of a Young Woman on

    Cannes Film Review: 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

    The title of Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” implies that her subversively seductive film will focus on the subject of its titular painting — an 18th-century woman who refuses to pose, in defiance of the arranged marriage into which she’s being forced — when it’s just as much a portrait of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content