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Vital 
Written by: on January 16th, 2006

Theatrical Release Date: Japan 2004
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Nami Tsukamoto, Kiki, Kazuyoshi Kushida, Lily, Hana Kino, Gô Rijû, Jun Kunimura

DVD released: January 24th, 2006
Approximate running time: 86 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: R
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS 5.1
DVD Release: Tartan Asia
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.99

Hiroshi, a medical student, has returned to his studies after losing his memory in a car crash which killed Ryoko, his love. His studies go brilliantly and he starts to see another student, Ikumi. Their course moves on to dissection and the body on the table in front of Hiroshi is that of Ryoko. This creates “memories” for Hiroshi and he becomes obsessed with the dissection of the body as a labour of love, his fellow students avoid him and only Ikumi will work with him. Will Hiroshi learn anything from his study and are the memories real?

Vital is as dark a subject matter as you could conceive of, but don’t let this put you off an incredibly moving and profound feature. Hiroshi’s obsession seems sick and fetishistic at first but in the end it proves that life has to be lived rather than studied, and that our grand concepts of souls and love can’t be found in a petri dish. Tsukamoto’s purpose in this tale is to warn us off our modern disconnection from living and dying and to show that intellectualising get us nowhere near our heart’s desire.

Asano is wonderfully blank and intense in his role as the remorseful amnesiac, but the most striking moments in the film come from Nami Tsukamoto as the remembered and dissected Ryoko. Her balletic movement and soulful eyes make Asano’s grief even more profound.

The film is beautiful in its entirety and the glistening innards of the dissection room are merely part of the natural world it celebrates. The scenes on the beach at Okinawa are tremendously affecting and the whole film is beautifully scored beginning with a cacophony of sound and the scars of industrial towers and ending with the glorious greenery that Tsukamoto thinks we should move back to.

This is Tsukamoto’s best film. Not body horror, not especially experimental and no science fiction in sight – a grown up film about who we are and what we need to remember.

The DVD:

The film is presented with a sharp anamorphic widescreen print and excellent transfer.

The audio is brilliant with a superb DTS 5.1 track alongside an ordinary Dolby 5.1, the cacophony which starts the film is truly terrifying when heard on the DTS track.

The extras include several featurettes on the film and its premiere in Venice, an interesting interview with Tsukamoto, trailers and a music video. The whole package comes in a slipcase.

This is a very good presentation of one of the best films you will see this year. I recommend you buy it.

You can learn more about Tartan’s USA releases by visiting here.

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