×
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

  • Colin Farrell Dumbo

    Colin Farrell To Star in Andrew Haigh's BBC Two Thriller 'The North Water'

    Colin Farrell is set to star in “The North Water,” the BBC Two thriller which will be directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Andrew Haigh (“Lean on Pete”). Based on Ian McGuire’s novel, the four-part series is being adapted by Haigh and produced by See-Saw Films for BBC Two. Set in the U.K. and in the [...]

  • New Fox Appoints Wayne Borg to

    New Fox Appoints Wayne Borg to Los Angeles Studio Role

    Wayne Borg, who has headed the Fox Studios Australia operations in Sydney for the past four years, has been appointed president and general manager of studios at New Fox. He will relocate from Australia to Los Angeles. Fox Studios Australia, which is to remain part of 21st Century Fox and will become part of Disney [...]

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content