The next film on my list needs…well, a little bit of introduction. It may be the only film on the list that readers haven’t heard of and/or seen, and it is very likely to be the strangest of the bunch. While the whole film doesn’t take place at Christmas time, enough of it does that when I first saw it, I immediately put it on my list of “Favorite Christmas Movies.”
It is a Japanese film and the filmmaker is primarily known for directing television commercials. In addition, he is also quite well-known for his visually dynamic and surreal style. I was first introduced to this film at an all-night film fest, and was stunned into submissive awe, excitement and jaw-dropped silence (if all three of those can go together, which, in this case, they did). I attempted to search it out, and found that it was quite difficult to find. I was lucky enough to get a copy and can now watch it at my leisure (which I do).
This film, while definitely not for everyone, is a special film. I love it and am extremely happy that I own it and can add it to the films I will watch to celebrate Chanukkamas/Christmukkah.
2) Survive Style 5+ (Gen Sekiguchi, 2004)
The first thing to note about this film is that it is a pop-culture aesthete’s wet dream. Then again, it is a Japanese film. It is all shades of pinks, blues, greens, and neon…everything. In fact, one could even say the soundtrack is neon. Watching Survive Style 5+ is like mainlining immense amounts of acid and ecstasy to your eyeballs and narrative analysis zones all at once. In other words, this movie is a trip, man.
But I love it. Not only does it have Vinnie Jones of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels fame, but it also features Sonny Chiba (has been in everything), Tadanobu Asano (most famous for playing Kakihara in Ichi the Killer but also has a reasonable roster), and Jai West (in Love Exposure, another crazy film I adore, and played Young Ioki on the original 21 Jump Street TV show).
The film doesn’t take place entirely at Christmas time, nor is Christmas the MAIN theme to the film (if there is just *one*), but in my humble assessment, it is during the “Christmas act” of the film where all of the different storylines take their final, pivotal turns. The film itself functions as a type of interlocking anthology piece of sorts, and when each storyline reaches the Christmas chapter, they peak, like they were on the drugs guiding the creation of this piece of enthusiastically adrenalized coloring-book madness.
There are tons of films that have “famous Christmas scenes.” As I’ve been watching all the multitudes of Xmas specials on television, most of them have been quoting Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincent Minnelli, 1944) as being first on that list. While there is no denying Minnelli or Garland, I have to say that the sheer visual explosivity of Survive Style 5+ mixed with just the right amount of sweetness works for me on a level that I treasure dearly. Yes, I admit to having very different proclivities when it comes to my holiday cinema treats, but I dare anyone to watch the Kobayashi family storyline and not become attached to their struggles within the narrative, surreal or not.
While Survival Style 5+ may not be Capra, it is certainly memorable, and I do not say that in any kind of backhanded compliment-type manner. While it may not initially come across this way, this film has wonderfully redemptive qualities, and (for me) makes perfect holiday viewing. The lessons that the characters learn within the sequence of events are not dissimilar from many within a standard Christmas special: love, family, loyalty, friendship, gameshows, psychotically-charged existential hitmen…ok, so maybe not every Christmas special involves the last two, but my point still stands.
If you get a chance to check out this film, I highly recommend you do so. But before you do, I would suggest that you ask yourself what your function is in life. You might need to know. Just in case.