STUDIO: Tartan Video
MSRP: $24.99
RUNNING TIME: 86 Minutes
Commentary by author Tom Mes
• Featurettes
Interview with Shinya Tsukamoto
Music video
Tartan Asia Extreme Trailers

The Pitch

A young man reconnects with his former lover…after dissecting her bit by bit.

The Humans

Tadanobu Asano, Nami Tsukamoto, Kiki and Jun Kunimura

The Nutshell

Hiroshi Takagi was recently involved in a horrific auto accident that broke his back and made him lose his memory. He returns home to parents he doesn’t remember and has no direction in life. After exploring his personal possessions, Hiroshi discovers that the one thing he does remember on a subconscious level is his medical school teaching. Before the accident, Hiroshi chose to drop out of medical school and pursue his love of drawing. However, with his medical knowledge being the only thing he can recall from his past life, Hiroshi decides to enroll in school once again.

After breezing through the first three years of the school it comes time for Hiroshi to take part in the coming of age test for all doctors – dissecting a cadaver. Initially Hiroshi has no problem with the dissection. This changes once he notices a familiar tattoo on the arm of the female cadaver. Hiroshi doesn’t know who this person is, but he knows for sure that he used to. As he takes the cadaver apart bit by bit and sketches each section, he remembers more and more about his past life and the relationship he shared with the deceased.

Michael Hutchence falls in battle while trying to defeat the evil Queen Zardoz in an Australian hotel room.

The Lowdown

Vital is one of Tsukamoto’s tamer and more sentimental films to be released. As usual, the human body serves as the primary story telling device, but this time the protagonist is learning from someone else’s body instead of his own. The film explores the question of what it really means to be alive. According to Tsukamoto, we are living in a virtual reality of sorts. We all know that death is an inevitable part of life, but it’s one that we easily ignore and don’t concern ourselves with in day to day life. Perhaps it’s because we’re happier that way or maybe it’s because we rarely come face to face with corpses anymore. Without having to face the irrefutable evidence of our eventual death it’s a lot easier to be in denial about it.

Hiroshi has no such luxury. He is faced with having to dissect the corpse of his former girlfriend who died partially as a result of his actions. He can’t remember much, but he does remember that he had many good times with this girl. Before he can start a new life for himself, he needs to figure out his past so he can truly achieve closure over the death of his former love. Not knowing of any other way to go about this process, Hiroshi decides to figure out who the girl really was by examining each and every part of her physical body, sketching it in stunning detail.

As Hiroshi remembers more and more of his past life, he begins to question what reality is and what is just in his head. He experiences vivid visions of his dead girlfriend that feel real to him. During these visions she acts in ways she never did in life and begs for him to stay with her. Not until Hiroshi finishes his dissection and buries her body can he truly accept the reality of death and move on with his life.

Final exams at Mola Ram University.

Much more streamlined and straightforward than previous Tsukamoto films, Vital is a compelling drama about life, death and love. The film continues the Tsukamoto trend of not exceeding 90 minutes, meaning that the film always moves at a brisk pace. Vital does break the trend of featuring surreal and metaphorical visuals though.

Vital has very linear and orderly plot progression that helps the viewer along instead of trying to confuse them. It’s refreshing to watch a Tsukamoto film where the message is immediately apparent and doesn’t require intense analysis. There’s nothing wrong with bizarre visuals and metaphors, but there’s also nothing wrong with a straightforward film about learning to let go and move on with your life. Vital may not be much of an extreme entry in Tartan’s Asia Extreme collection, but it’s one of Tsukamoto’s most inspired and well rounded efforts.

The Package

The largest feature on the disc is a feature length commentary by Tom Mes, who is something of an expert on the films of Tsukamoto. He is also the editor and founder of, a site focusing on any and everything dealing with Japanese cinema. Mes’ knowledge of Tsukamoto is nearly limitless and he goes into great detail explaining the entire production process of Vital from beginning to end.

Just as I thought. Death by Fruit Stripe gum tattoo poisoning.

Standard featurettes and interviews round out the bulk of the special features. Tsukamoto describes his inspiration for writing the film as well as the techniques he used in filming it. Special effects crew members demonstrate the process used to create the fake cadavers used throughout the movie. Featurettes also document behind the scenes action such as location scouting and the lives of the film’s stars as they gallivant around Venice during the film’s debut. As usual, a smattering of Tartan Video trailers are included as well in addition to the original theatrical trailer for Vital and a music video made up of film clips and the film’s end credits theme.

7.0 out of 10