If "Vital" fails to find an audience, we can put the blame squarely on its marketing. When a film that can only be described as serene and introspective gets released by Tartan as part of their "Asia Extreme" series, you have to wonder what happened. I'm somewhat familiar with Shinya Tsukamoto and I've watched many of the Asian horror and suspense films that have made it to the USA over the last few years. Naturally, I was expecting something bizarre and freakish. I was about as wrong as I could possibly be.
"Vital" is a deliberately paced drama where the protagonist struggles to regain memories that he lost as the result of a car accident. He is, in essence, living in a state of suspended animation, unsure of the world around him. Needless to say, there isn't a lot of action or dialogue, not that one would expect it. The soundtrack is particularly effective in communicating the emotions and mental state that the protagonist is unable to articulate. The film lulls the viewer into a trance state, thus absorbing us into a story that isn't actually that original.
My main criticism of the film is that I felt Tsukamoto's talent was squandered. "Vital" is a very straight-forward retelling of an already familiar tale. What exactly is new here? Why don't we just watch Hitchcock's "Vertigo" again? Although the film displays beautiful craftsmanship, I don't feel that it successfully distinguishes itself from the array of similar movies, even within the realm of contemporary Asian cinema.
There are touches of Tsukamoto's unique cinematic approach. There is an absolutely amazing scene that opens the film where a row of four smokestacks shift in and out of focus, while the soundtrack presents a cacophony of aural terror. It's quite effective, although I never understood how it was connected to anything in the film. And, as I said, the soundtrack really pulls the film together and almost warrants a recommendation on its strength alone.
Overall, I can give "Vital" a limited recommendation to fans of this highly stylized contemporary Asian cinema, and to fans of slow, peaceful dramas. In that capacity, I did enjoy "Vital" quite a lot. However, there will be other viewers who can safely skip this title without too much regret. I suspect "Vital" will effect some viewers in a very personal and moving way (as certain other reviewers attest), but there will be other viewers who find the film tedious and lethargic.
I've done my best to give a sense of the tone of the film, without saying too much. My advice is to watch it if what I've described seems interesting. And again, let me emphasize that this is most definitely *not* a horror film, nor is it "extreme" in any manner. As long as you don't pay much attention to the marketing and you go in with the correct expectations, you're safe.