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Film
No, we’re not referring to the Talking Heads song, nor the animals at the local zoo – we’re referring to Shinji Aoyama’s attempt at a yakuza screwball comedy. The story revolves around an ex-boxer/current nail specialist who finds himself in an uneasy conundrum. His boss and friend have been kidnapped, corrupt cops and easy going yakuza are chasing him, and everyone, including his boss’ daughter, thinks he knows more than he does. To rescue his boss and save his own life he must figure out not only what’s happened, but what everyone seems to think he’s hiding.

Wild Life
Like The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, Wild Life is a fish out of water story, a Raymond Chandler novel with an unlikely protagonist. Story structure similarities aside, acclaimed director Aoyama does a better impersonation of Jim Jarmusch than Joel and Ethan. Long takes, static shots, stretches of screen time where nothing is said, and very soft spoken characters have all become Jarmusch trademarks. So have slightly oddball characters. The characters in Wild Life are oddball, Jarmusch’s brand of harmless oddball, not to be confused with David Lynch’s scary oddballs.

Unfortunately, under Jarmusch’s direction, harmless oddballs and long silent takes seem charming, whereas Aoyama’s films are more along the lines of just being slow. There are an appreciable amount of laugh-out-loud moments in Wild Life, and there is a motley crew of endearing characters, but the plebeian muck in between is grueling. When our hero finally lets ‘er rip and shows some of his bygone boxing skills, it’s a funny and somewhat thrilling moment, but it comes so late that if I’d been watching the film for fun rather than review I would have missed it, as I would have already given up and stopped watching.

I know Aoyama has a strong fan base and buckets of critical acclaim, but I still haven’t been impressed with his abilities. He simply isn’t doing anything exciting or new, and I’m not really one to go out of my way to watch mediocre foreign films, there are plenty of them to be found domestically. I am a Jarmusch fan, but do find some of his work a little taxing, and not exactly re-watchable material. Subsequently, readers that can't get enough of the platinum haired maverick's work will probably enjoy Wild Life for what it's worth.

Wild Life
Video
When I first started working with DVDAnswers I received several screener copies from Artsmagic DVD. I was always impressed with the care put into their transfers. Last years release of Tsukamoto's Bullet Ballet was especially immaculate. The last few discs I’ve seen from them, however, were not exactly up to there usual standards. Artsmagic is a UK based company, so I can understand that they must deal with PAL to NTSC conversion when it comes to their R1 releases. I am assuming (as I’ve made it very clear in past reviews, I am not an expert, just a viewer) that it is this process that has made Wild Life, along with Aoyama’s EM Embalming, look so sub par.

Wild Life is presented anamorphically enhanced, framed at what appears to be a 2.20:1 ratio, which I will assume was the pictures original intended ratio. Edge enhancement very extreme, to the point of pixelization. The overall picture is very dark, and even purposefull oversaturated flashbacks appear muted in colour. The telltale sign of PAL to NTSC conversion is the digitized wavering of all onscreen text (excluding subtitles), and some ghosting effects. Wild Life is watchable, but is about as impressive as a VHS transfer.

Wild Life
Sound
Though the box art only mentions a 5.1 Dolby Digital option, Artsmagic has also supplied a stereo track. Both tracks are almost identical, the only real differences kicking in with the film's music. The 5.1 track utilizes the surround channels effectively when the strange pseudo-jazz-retro-new-wave score is dispensed, though perhaps a bit too loudly especially when compared to the other audio on the track. Ambiance and voices are plenty clear on both tracks. The stereo track has slightly better bass balance, as the LFE of the 5.1 occasionally moans out of control.

Extras
Once again filling in for our good friend Tom Mes is the equally intellectually qualified Jasper Sharp on an uber-informative commentary track. Like his EM Embalming track, Sharp is ever involving and so knowledgeable in the field of Japanese film it verges on creepy. Is he just studying these people, or is he stalking them? This time around he wraps things up about five minutes early, but the info he packs into the other 98 minutes is more than sufficient. The extras are completed with the usual Artsmagic talking head interview with director Aoyama (a modest, but somewhat aloof man) and cast and crew bios.

Wild Life
Overall
Though Wild Life was by no means a bad film, it didn’t offer quite enough to consider it better than just average. It’s a mixed bag with a few sweet bits, but far too many unsalted peanuts for my taste. Fans of Jim Jarmusch may be inclined to give it a go, but even they may be better off watching Ghost Dog or Dead Man again instead, both movies being simular in tone. Members of the ever-growing Big Lebowski cult may enjoy the occasional comparisons as well. A grimy transfer and so-so audio track don’t help, but listening to Jasper Sharp’s factoid packed commentary is as illuminating as most books, and possibly worth admission for modern Japanese film perfectionists.


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