Saturday, September 18, 2004


When we are young and do crazy things, do we flirt with death because we do not understand it, or are we just wired that way?
Vital was the best film of the Toronto Film Festival 2004 that I saw (edging out 3-Iron by only the smallest of margins). It is the one of the strangest personal dramas in which a man recovers his humanity by literally dissecting his girlfriend. Before you lock in a mental picture of the previous sentence, know that the film is not gory in any way. It is one of the most respectful films to human flesh that I have ever seen. The anatomical pencil sketchs shown throughout the picture are hauntingly beautiful. This is not a horror film or even science fiction. It is a film which asks the deep human questions of how the flesh is connected to the spiritual. Can dead flesh be a record of who that person was, beyond the physial?
A man wakes up with Amnesia. He is told by his father that he was in a car accident with his girlfriend (who died). He enrolls in medical school and years later when he gets to his anatomy lab, gets his girlfriend as the cadaver. He does not know this at first. But has he does the hands-on-course work his memories of life with her begin to flood back. He is able to move on with his life because he has done this. The movie does not exist in the 'real world' but rather the metaphoric much like Antonioni, Bergman or even Vincent Ward. I don't think that even in Japan there would be a funeral ceremony given to the donated-to-science-cadavers after the classes were finished. I don't think that the school or the parents would even allow this thing to happen once they knew the connections between student and cadaver. But the film is not about the plot. It is about deep spiritual questions.
That these questions are answered through visuals more than dialogue is another superior thing. It is difficult enough to address these questions with words. It is fascinating how the writer-director Shinya Tsukomoto actually makes this work!
The regaining memory 'flashbacks' has the lead character not just reliving the moments with his girlfriend, but also somehow being outside the moment, as if memory and nostalgia for the past give him a new way to interact with her. She is prescient and omnicient in those dreams. Her spark of life his done through a couple tour-de-force dance sequences against helplessly beautiful backgrounds. Far from being flashy however, the film is actually quite understated and the acting subtle.
The emotional and intellectual and even sexual engagement (no, there is no necrophilia for those of you with dirty minds) of the movie is unsurpassed this year for me. The film references Blade Runner (which for that, will put any movie at least on my curiously list) several times from memory as passing rain, to the belching smokestacks which open both films. Flesh as memory and the origin of the soul are deep themes in both films as well.
It makes me want to check out all of Tusokomotos films. I am somewhat aquianited with his Tetsuo from a years back, but my understanding was that it was a machine meets flesh (like David Cronenberg's films) guerilla horror film made on zero budget in the directors garage (Robert Rodriguez style). Vital however is a cinematography paradise and could compete with any of the beautiful art-films from around the world. I now must see all of his movies.


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