Vital is a Japanese movie from director Shinya Tsukamoto about a young man who is seriously injured in an auto accident and loses his memory. He had been pursuing a medical education before giving it up for reasons unspecified, but shortly after the accident enrolls in medical school after all. Apparently he remembers whatever drew him to the study of medicine, and does not remember whatever made him abandon it. Which thrills his parents, who of course never wanted him to give up medicine in the first place.
Over time, some of his memory comes back, and he is told things about his past by people. He finds out that a girlfriend was in the car with him when he had his accident, and that she died from the injuries she sustained. The bigger shock though is when he comes to believe the cadaver he has been assigned to dissect is his dead girlfriend.
There is much obscurity in this movie (though it’s not hard to find foreign or indie films with even more). There are plenty of ambiguous scenes where you don’t know if they’re happening here and now, they’re his returning memories, they’re his dreams or fantasies, they’re happening in some other dimension where ghosts dwell, or some other supernatural thing like that is going on.
Frankly that’s the kind of obscurity I just don’t have a lot of patience for in movies. Which is not to say I don’t like challenging or complex movies. I certainly appreciate movies with complex characters, morally complicated situations, detailed storylines that require close attention, etc. What I mean is, the more I have to wonder “Is this scene happening or is it fantasy?” in a film, typically the more annoying I find it.
The dissection scenes in this film are thought-provoking–the way they are filmed, the things the characters talk about concerning the cadavers, the different degrees of squeamishness among students in terms of willingness to do the cutting or even just their ability to observe and not lose their lunch, the attempts to maintain a certain level of dignity in the treatment and eventual disposal of the cadavers–all that.
Arguably the movie goes a little far in making the protagonist uncommunicative. For a guy who lost his memory, it’s surprising that he rarely asks questions or shows much interest in conversing with people who can help him fill in gaps. He literally utters something like three words the first half hour or so of the movie.
Late in the film, a character says something to him like, “Dr. So-and-So is concerned that you’re pulling away from people and allowing yourself to become too isolated!” and I’m thinking, “Are you kidding? He occasionally utters something more than a monosyllable now; he’s positively extroverted and gregarious compared to earlier in the movie.”
I don’t feel his involvement with another student, and her having the experience of a professor killing himself over her, is integrated all that well with the main storyline about the cadaver and putting together the pieces of his former relationship. It seems more a distraction than a contribution.
For awhile, the film seems to be developing into a House-style medical mystery as information is gradually revealed about the accident, about the girlfriend possibly being mentally ill or suicidal, about the dissection of her brain, etc. But ultimately it kind of peters out, with an ending likely too subtle and unresolving to satisfy most viewers.
There are elements to this movie that are intriguing, elements that are well done, but overall it is not a film I can recommend.