NOTE:Although this Japanese Import DVD is NTSC, it is coded for playback in Region 2 only. In order to watch this disc, you'll have to have either a player coded for Region 2, or a Region Free DVD Player.
Gen Sekiguchi's Survive Style 5+ is one of those movies that is hard to put into words. Structured in a way very much akin to how Quentin Tarantino made Pulp Fiction, we're introduced to a few different factions who ultimately end up intertwined in one another's lives. There's the family who want to go see a live performance of the hit TV show, Viva Friends only to run into problems. There's the woman who works as an advertising executive who happens to be sleeping with the host of Viva Friends and who is tired of appeasing the corporations (represented by Sonny Chiba of The Street Fighter) who want only tired and dull commercials. There's the man (Tadanobu Asano of Ichi The Killer) who has killed his wife/girlfriend only to have her come back and get revenge time and time again. A trio of friends get their kicks by breaking into homes and stealing whatever they can find that is of worth to them, two of whom may or may not be in love with one another. Then finally there's the English hit-man (Vinnie Jones of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch fame) and his Japanese interpreter, trying to find out what everyone's purpose in life really is.
In terms of the look of the film, well, it's pure pop art. The colors are bright and bold and clashing and very, very day-glo. The camera movements range from fast and furious to slow and languid depending on what the story dictates and the end result is a rather unusual looking film (which works, as this is a rather unusual film in the first place).
This movie is out of control. It's kinetic and frantic and hyperactive and completely off the wall. The colors are as vibrant and 'pop' as anything out of a comic book could be and the script bounces around so quickly that even at over two hours in length the film is never dull. The performances in this one range from the fairly serious to the extremely comedic. Even the straighter parts have their humorous touches, however, like the 'all business' Sonny Chiba stopping a board meeting dead in its tracks to take an important call from his wife in which she alerts him that the bathroom light has blown a bulb.
Humor obviously plays a huge part in the film and there are a few different ways that the filmmaker's handle the comedic elements of the movie. The running jokes that the film keeps coming back to, such as Asano's girls problems or the potential love blossoming between the two burglars signified by some very homoerotic disco music, work really well and even when you know they're coming, they're still funny (and in fact, possibly funnier because you know they're coming). Vinnie Jones' straight-man/killer and his interpreter inevitably show up and affect everyone of the other characters in some way or another, continuing to question everyone as to what they're really doing with their lives in the first place. This adds a level of transcendentalism to the movie in that he saunters through the film as sort of an angel of death for hire, though not one without his own issues. It's all rather kooky – but it works.
Sekiguchi infuses his film with just enough warmth and heart in the last forty five minutes to explain the nonsensical first hour and a bit perfectly. While the ending doesn't make sense on a logical level, in the context of the story it works beautifully and it is quite a sensitive finale to what starts off as an adrenaline charged hyperactive go-getter. Everything is wrapped up neatly with a bow in its own oddball way, and although if you were to judge the film by its first half you'd probably think it impossible to do so, the storylines are concluded in ways that make their own twisted sort of sense.
While the humor might not be to everyone's tastes as it is very dark at times, Survive Style 5+ is one of those movies that will definitely appeal to a certain segment of the populace. It's not mainstream fare, and even for fans of Japanese cinema it might be a little much, but it is definitely an original experience and one that this reviewer had a lot of fun with. It might take a little while to come together, but once it does the end results are completely worth it.
Survive Style 5+ is presented in a very nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that, compositionally, looks to be its original aspect ratio. Colors are nice and bright but not over saturated which is a nice bonus as the color scheme plays a huge role in the look, tone and feel of the film. The black levels stay nice and strong but look carefully and you'll notice a little bit of mpeg compression evident in a couple of the darker scenes in the movie. There is some mild edge enhancement and some noticeable line shimmering in various spots throughout the movie but for the most part, those issues aside, the image is strong and stable. There aren't any problems with print damage at all and film grain is kept firmly in check though some of the shots do look a little on the soft side and there could have been a bit more sharpness to the image.
Geneon has supplied this release with audio mixes available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. Optional English subtitles are included (for the feature only) that do a pretty good job of translating the film and that don't contain any noticeable typographical errors save for the odd awkward phrase here and there. Regardless of which track you choose (the DTS gets the slight edge for stronger bass but other than that they're more or less identical) you should be pretty happy with the results. The dialogue is crisp, clean and clear and there are no problems at all with hiss or distortion. The surround channels get a nice work out during the action scenes, especially during the scene where Tadanobu Asano is chased through the woods by soldiers or in the scenes where he's fighting with his girlfriend. The musical numbers really come to life on this release, with plenty of crowd noise and sound effects filling up the blank spots in the music for a really well made and immersive experience. This is one of those films that really does a nice job with surround sound technology and seeing it without a legitimate 5.1 setup wouldn't be doing the film justice. Thankfully, Geneon's DVD sounds great.
There are a whole batch of extra features included on the second disc of this two disc set, but sadly all of them are in Japanese without any optional English subtitles. Included are the requisite cast and crew biographies, and a trio of trailers for the feature. There's also a half hour Making Of Survive Style 5+ documentary that includes some nice behind the scenes footage, as well as on camera interviews with Tadanobu Asano, Reika Hashimoto, Hiroshi Abe, and Yoshiyoshi Arakawa. Some footage of the film's premiere is included where the participants engaged in a meet and greet session, and there are also a handful of deleted scenes included in here as well (the lack of subs means I have no idea what happens in them, really). There's also a discussion on the film between director Gen Sekiguchi and screenwriter Taku Tada as well as some footage of overseas film festival screenings (the Locarno International Film Festival and Pusan International Film Festival respectively). Rounding out the supplements are a few different television commercials. Inside the keepcase is an insert booklet, again in Japanese only, that looks like it provides some details and information on the characters in the film and how they inter-relate to one another.
Survive Style 5+ is a completely off the wall and completely unique black comedy that moves at an amazing pace and features a great cast of notables and not so notables alike. The Geneon two disc set looks and sounds great, but it's a shame that the extra features, of which there are many, don't have English subtitles (though it's hard to fault the disc for that seeing as this is a Japanese market release). Hopefully someone will pick this one up and port over the extras with English subs for the North American market, but until that happens, this set remains highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.