As a big Japanese and Asian movie fan in general, this movie had been on my radar for a while. I wasn’t familiar with Gen Sekiguchi but knew most of the cast and was used to other recent directors with a flair for surrealism. The reports I’d heard were innacurate as I was told this was a fairly straight movie, albeit with humour and sprinkles of madness- clearly those reporters never watched the film. More similar in style to something like Save The Green Planet than Pulp Fiction, Survival Style loosely weaves a series of vignettes with more tricks than a monkey in a box. We have a group of inept but oddly gracious thieves, a family torn apart when the father is hypnotised into thinking he is a chicken, and the strangely tragic story of a man who repeatedly kills his wife until she returns from the dead as his ‘perfect version’. These stories and more are linked by Vinnie Jones’s character- an assassin brought into Japan for his specific skills. Jones will never be a great actor but he is
usually effective in whataver role he is given. Here he plays the typical tough guy with a twist, asking his victims and people he meets what their function in life is- most of the answers send him into a murderous rage. Sekiguchi struggles to make a coherent narrative and bring it to completion, though anyone would struggle with such tales and coherence was never of great importance. Unfortunately some of the characters aren’t interesting enough to engage for the long running time, and there is too much jumping around between stories. His style is unquestionably interesting but needs to be honed a great deal before being compared with the greats. Most of the actors give strong performances, particularly from Tadanobu Asano and Japanese Oscar winner Ittoku Kishibe. The soundtrack has pumping beats and J-Punk screams with the ocassional tender moment, while most though and time seems to have gone into the sets, wardrobe, and cinematography. Praise should be given in the end for the fact that some life affirming feelings and hope are gained from these such wacky and seemingly pointless stories, and with a little more skill the director should be one to watch out for in the future.
Overall this is a decent film, not quite worthy in my opinion of four stars though a few reviewers here clearly love it. I think that with a slightly shorter running time and less frenetic plot skipping this could have been better, but I would still recommend it to fans of Asian movies, and those looking for something a little less ordinary.
(Originally written in 2010)