The film follows five simultaneous, loosely linked plot lines, that intertwine and scramble together. A man (Tadanobu Asano) keeps killing his wife (Reika Hashimoto) and burying her in the woods only to find her alive, furious, and waiting for him when he returns home. A suburban family’s life is disrupted when the father (Ittoku Kishibe) is permanently hypnotized into believing he is a bird and tries to learn how to fly. A trio of aimless youth pass time by burgling houses. A murderous advertising executive (Kyōko Koizumi) tries to imagine ideas for commercials. The stories clash together through the intervention of a thuggish hitman (Vinnie Jones) and his translator (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa). (source)
When you read the above synopsis, Survive Style 5+ seems a bit of a mess. To tell the truth, it can be slightly complex, but whilst watching it never feels messy. Each storyline intertwines with each other in an episodic manner; after each mini-event in each mini-story, it switches over to a different character or group of characters. I would say that the flipping between different stories is reminiscent of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), just with quirkier elements. This is what I love about Japanese cinema – it’s generally never afraid to do weird things. Which is also what I love about this film. I’m not going to pretend this film isn’t weird, because it totally is. But it owns its weirdness, and the interesting directorial choices by Gen Sekiguchi perfectly complement its quirks. The humour is strange, at times blatantly and gratuitously sexual, and always dark. But what else would you expect from a film with such strange content?
Survive Style 5+ is very well acted, with a cast of characters ranging from murderous, to inquisitive, to stupid, to bird-like. Tadanobu Asano stands out as the violent husband who keeps trying to kill his wife to no avail, and the end of his story is actually quite heartbreaking. I truly think he is the only Japanese actor (that I can think of) who could successfully pull off such a story. One of my other favourite performances was by Vinnie Jones, whose face you would recognise anywhere, and who is often typecast as a thug in his films. This film is no exception. Jones’ portrayal of a hired hitman who wants to find out his victims’ purpose in life was not only funny but also somewhat touching, if you can believe it. The translator who works with him completes each funny scenario as Jones attempts to communicate with his Japanese clients. Finally, who could ever forget Ittoku Kishibe’s performance as a man hypnotised to believe that he’s a bird. The moment where he realises his family is having turkey for Christmas dinner was quite distressing, because by that point in the film you can almost empathise with his plight. His son’s touching belief that his dad is still a dad even if he’s a bird is also so sweet.
I love the set design in this film the most (except Tadanobu Asano, who is probably one of my favourite actors of all time). It seems like every flat surface is decorated and freakishly colourful somehow, and the scenes inside Tadanobu Asano’s character’s house are particularly mindblowing. One scene is set inside a room with red walls, where all the decor within the room (pillows, clocks, paintings), is decorated with designs of eyes and eyeballs. It’s just so creative and your eye doesn’t quite know where to look – which I would normally find tiresome, however in this the clutter of interesting objects and visual elements seems to be constructed in a meaningful and purposeful manner, making it more interesting than overwhelming. Everything is so colourful and vibrant, which lends the film a cartoonish quality, which completely fits with the overall story, themes, and strange content.
I first learned about Survive Style 5+ after watching another amazingly weird film – Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005). That film is probably the weirdest piece of cinema I’ve ever seen, and it was suggested to me that the two films are fairly similar to one another. If you’ve seen Funky Forest, you’ll know that you need to learn pretty quickly to put away your expectations and just go with what you’re presented on screen. I sort of felt the same way with Survive Style 5+. The dad is now a chicken? Sure. The dead wife keeps resurrecting herself and can now shoot fire out of her mouth? Sure, why not. When watching films like this, you need to set aside any notion of suspension of disbelief and just enjoy the insanity, and above all else, that’s what I love.
I’m so glad I finally bit the bullet and watched this film as a part of my Blindspot series. Survive Style 5+ contains everything I love about good Japanese cinema – great acting, mindblowing visuals, quirky humour and straight-up weirdness. I do question whether people who have a low tolerance for stupidity and ridiculousness would enjoy this – in fact, I could probably guarantee that people who prefer straightforward stories would hate this film. But I loved Survive Style 5+, and I almost wish I had seen it sooner.
Watch the trailer here.