"Where is the soul?" asks one character as he probes a cadaver in Shinya Tsukamoto's latest, Vital. With films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man and A Snake Of June under his belt, Tsukamoto has a track record of exploring the limits of human flesh and Vital continues his obsession in a powerful, complex piece in which the hard reality of bone and gristle is a tool to study the relationship between body and soul and the nature of grief.
Following a car crash which has left him with amnesia, Hiroshi (Zatôchi's Tadanobu Asano) rediscovers an interest in medicine and enrols at med school. As dissection classes begin, he starts to uncover memories of a woman who it transpires is his girlfriend, Ryôko (Nami Tsukamoto), who died in the crash and is now visiting him in waking dreams. Unfortunately, Ryôko's corpse is lying in front of him in class and his grief threatens to overwhelm his fragile state of mind.
"LITTLE TO BE SQUEAMISH ABOUT"
This might sound like a gruesomely contrived plot twist but Tsukamoto, skilled craftsman that he is, uses it to meditate on the relationship between the physical flesh and the human soul. And as Hiroshi dissects and records every detail of Ryôko's anatomy, he begins to contend with the holes in his own heart and mind. There's little to be squeamish about (the dissection scenes are mild compared to episodes of Holby City) but Tsukamoto's films share common threads with those of David Cronenberg which unnerve all the same. Eventually, though, the madness and despair give way to a ray of hope and Tsukamoto, a softie at heart, suggests that while the flesh will always die, love is still eternal.
In Japanese with English subtitles.