Survive Style 5+ (2004)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (3.5/5)
March 12th, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

To say Survive Style 5+ is a difficult film to analyze would be a gross understatement. To say that the picture is unlike anything one has ever seen before also couldn't be closer to the truth. To that point, it's hard to say what Gen Sekiguchi's original intent was for the production, but he certainly fashioned a memorable and incredibly bizarre final product. As a conventional film, Survive Style 5+ fails miserably, but as the insane and off the wall trip that Sekiguchi was likely trying to convey, the movie passes with flying colors. Yes, the story is kind of a mess, and the characters, while memorable, aren't all that multilayered in the least; however, Survive Style 5+ is more about the presentation than anything else, boasting some amazing sequences and set designs while also featuring a very fitting musical score.

For a quick summation of the plot, the movie opens with a man named Ishigaki giving a lone burial of his wife as he watches over the corpse. After witnessing her nose twitch, he leaps into the pit and begins to mercilessly smash her face in with his shovel, before burying the remains and heading home. However, he enters his kitchen only to find his wife already there, as the pair then begin to try and kill one another through out the house. Time and time again, the husband manages to succeed each night only to have her be resurrected shortly there after. This life and death struggle slowly begins to intertwine with that of a commercial designer named Yuko, and her dissatisfied relationship with a hypnotist, as an English hit man is called in. It's not long before the bodies begin to drop left and right, until the husband approaches the hit man himself about taking care of his own wife. All the while, a normal family is caught in the mix as their father is hypnotized into believing himself to be a bird, while a trio of thieves manages to stumble in-between the ensuing conflicts.

If the overall plot of the film seems incredibly convoluted and bizarre, that's only because it is. Not only that, but I've hardly even scratched the surface of everything the movie has to offer, although the production tends to be more about style over substance in the long run. To the film's credit, Sekiguchi and writer Taku Tada certainly do a good job of constructing interesting scenarios for their characters to inhabit. The first half of the movie is a real blast, in fact, as one is introduced to the odd universe of Survive Style 5+. Unfortunately, the direction and writing have trouble moving the picture along after the setup is established, as the pacing starts to linger while the plot and gags begin to run astray. To that point, there is some odd dead space near the end, while the entire thief part of the plot ends up not mattering at all, and could have easily been cut out without affecting the story. In fact, the real problem with the plot is simply that there is a huge number of different stories taking place that never really connect to make the entire thing seem cohesive. The real front runner angle is Ishigaki's battle with his wife, which takes center stage to the point where cuts to the other characters start to feel tiresome as one would rather watch the much more interesting conflict occurring. Consequently, the movie really has no true climax, as the most exciting moment of the film takes place only 24 minutes in as we first see Ishigaki's wife, Mimi, begin to leap into the air and jump off walls in a over the top martial arts-style fashion as she tries to kill her husband.

In terms of character development, well that's a difficult thing to gauge as there really isn't any, or much of an attempt at it either for that matter. Survive Style 5+ is far more interested in introducing more characters, even quick quirky ones like the kindergarten teacher who picks apart her classes portraits, then it is in developing any of the cast its got. That's not to say there aren't memorable faces in the film, as there certainly are with Tadanobu Asano's Ishigaki character, Reika Hashimoto's super violent Mimi and Vinnie Jones' English speaking hit man. However, this has more to do with their outlandishness then anything developed about them by the writing. Each of them has quirks that come through consistently, some of which pay off well with great comical moments. The best example of this is Jones constantly asking everyone around him ‘What is your function in life?' before going berserk and stabbing them. Unfortunately, others, like Yoko the commercial planner (portrayed by Kyoko Koizumi), have running gags that kind of peter off in terms of humor, like her twitching eyes and visualization of commercials related to the events around her. The movie's gigantic cast of main characters, almost a dozen, manages to overshadow the lackluster development though, as one's senses are constantly being bombarded by the ensuing insanity of the Survive Style world. To not spoil a whole lot, which is a real rarity in my reviews, the relationship between Ishigaki and his wife also changes dramatically through out the course of the movie, which is something to watch for and ends up working even if the transition is abrupt.

This leads into the acting displayed in the movie which, I'm afraid, could have been much better. To that point, most of the cast, including familiars like Sonny Chiba, give rather weak or mediocre performances that would seem to reflect more on the focus of director Sekiguchi than any one cast member. However, I was rather impressed by both Tadanobu Asano, hard not to be given the difficult role he had to portray, and to a lesser extent Hiroshi Abe, who ends up playing a rather minimal character in the grand scheme of things once the bodies start hitting the floor.

Still, despite its numerous faults, Survive Style 5+ is still a highly enjoyable production. The cinematography and set design are handled extraordinary well here, for example, as diverse camera angles are used appropriately and to good effect while the surroundings are very eye catching and absorbing, seeming like they would be right at home in a Tim Burton film. In fact, some of the sets are really fantastic, such as the 1970's style Ishigaki household and hypnotist Tiger Aoyama's almost playpen-like love making room. This plays a key role in the film, as it takes the viewer through five different stories, but it's able to root the audience in which part they are watching using the diverse set styles established in each.

What really carries the movie, though, is its sense of humor, and its impeccable tendency to never let the viewer see the punch line coming. Some of the gags are really fantastic, such as the pair of school girls seen fleetingly during Yoko's story as one relates increasingly horrible accidents (a crow attack, nearly being raped) and the other keeps talking with a casual tone as she enters things in her cell phone. The English hit man's translator also leads to some humorous moments, as does the assassination for hire organization that he runs.

In regards to the musical score, it's fitting for the picture, and very reminiscent of something from a Quentin Tarantino film in terms of the selection and how it utilizes some stock music. A bulk of the music is conducted by James Shimoji, who shows some incredible range with his eerie “Deep Forest” theme, which is played during Mimi's burial at the start, to the upbeat “Feast music” used not much later in the movie. Shimoji's main title is also very nicely done, and fits its stylistic introduction to a T. The rest of the music is mostly comprised of songs, almost all of which are in English and range from Jess Harnell's “Something More Than Life” to Darryl Phinnessee's rendering of the “First Noel”. Surprisingly, most of this fits seamlessly into the picture itself, even if the soundtrack, as a stand alone listening experience, is very jarring.

In conclusion, Survive Style 5+ is an experience unlike almost any other, but it's certainly not for everyone. There is something very alluring about the movie though, while trying to explain the feature to nearly anyone else will likely cause one to be exasperated as they draw a blank on how to summarize this unique production. Personally, I love this movie for its first 40 or so minutes, and while the end gets a little weak, the opening is so brilliant into itself that it nearly makes up for it. Of course, since first watching it, I have also had the chance to see Tetsuya Nakashima's Kamikaze Girls (2004), which I felt captured this same level of off the wall humor with more consistency in the laughs while also developing the cast of characters (no easy feat given the style of the movie). In turn, my feelings toward this movie were tarnished a little, but Nakashima's film plays out like a much more PG-13 oriented rhomb then the more R rated humor found in Survive Style, which might be a turn on or off for some depending.