I’m beginning to think the name Shinya Tsukamoto is nothing more than a pseudonym for David Cronenberg. Like Cronenberg, Tsukamoto’s films share a similar “New Flesh” theme as evidenced by Tetsuo. Vital is a very different beast altogether though. Quiet and poetic, the film forces us to face man’s fragile mortality. The film is filled with fluids, flesh and textures and had a decidedly soft, organic feel as opposed to Tetsuo’s jagged metal and serpentine wiring.
Hiroshi Takagi (Tadanobu Asano) wakes up to find himself in the hospital. His parents tell him he was in a near fatal accident which would go a long way toward explaining why Hiroshi has no memory of them. Apparently, he was driving his car and was hit head on by a truck.
Upon leaving the hospital he decides to join medical school and become a doctor. Hiroshi is at the top of his class and catches the eye of Ikumi (Kiki), a scheming overachiever. Though she continually tries to get Hiroshi’s attention, he remains in his own world.
When Hiroshi’s class reaches the final phase of learning, they’re required to dissect a human body. Various groups are split up and Ikumi ends up in Hiroshi’s group. As they unwrap their cadavers, Hiroshi receives some flashes of memory. Though not quite sure of anything, he gets the strange feeling he knows the girl on his table.
As the class progresses, Hiroshi details every phase of the dissection through drawing. The further he cuts into the body, the more personal he gets, the more memories come flooding back to him. Believing that these aren’t memories but an actual reality, Hiroshi seeks the advice of his parents. He’s told that he did know the girl on the table and these memories are nothing more than his imagination.
Things get even more complicated when Ikumi is willing to go to any lengths to hold onto Hiroshi’s attention, even going so far as to hurt herself. Hiroshi struggles between the reality in which this beautiful young woman dances for him or Ikumi and the here and now.
Who is the girl on the table? What does she want?
Vital is a very interesting film though I found myself waiting for the “long-haired girl” & “ghost boy” to make their appearances. Of course, they don’t. This is no ghost story in the traditional sense. The ghosts that haunt Hiroshi are memories and the truly hard part for him is to decide whether these memories are really happening and whether he wishes to remain in them.
Hiroshi’s change in personality is visible as he “comes to life” in the memories with the girl and becomes sullen and withdrawn in “reality”. It’s hinted that his personality may have been damaged along with his memory in the accident.
Vital is a thought-provoking film that really points to our fragile existence and our misguided faith in memory. Obviously, this film isn’t for everybody. There’s no gore (technically), no sex (in the usual sense) and no roaring chainsaws. It’s an examination of tissue.
I highly recommend this film to Tsukamoto fans. Definitely a solid entry.
Tartan Video have really given the fans some extras to dig into including a “making of”, behind the scenes at the Venice Film Festival, an interview with Shinya Tsukamoto and more. It’s great to see films like this get the recognition and attention they deserve as well as shelf space.