Junichi OkadaArata FurutaDaikichi SugawaraYu Kashii
Hold Up Down
Medium: film
Year: 2005
Writer/director: Hiroyuki Tanaka ["Sabu"]
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Arata Furuta, Yuki Himura, Masato Ibu, Ryoichi Inaba, Yoshihiko Inohara, Ayumi Ito, Yu Kashii, Ken Miyake, Tomu Miyazaki, Leo Morimoto, Go Morita, Hiroshi Nagano, Junichi Okada, Masayuki Sakamoto, Eihi Shiina, Osamu Shitara, Daikichi Sugawara, Hitomi Takahashi
Format: 96 minutes
Url: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0461523/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 12 June 2019
It's ridiculously funny. It slows down in the third act, but the first hour is Sabu with his Sabu-ness turned up to eleven. This is still the first decade of his career as a writer/director, when he was practically a genre unto himself. (He's since moved on to less frenetic fare.) I'd liken it to a silent comedy, driven by physical gags and visual storytelling rather than by dialogue (although the dialogue scenes can be very funny too). It's piling mishap upon mishap. It has coincidences, car crashes, idiot criminals and cops (and criminally inclined cops) and laugh-out-loud death. There's a massive change of direction almost every five minutes. It's an intricate high-energy farce of lowlifes, loons and scumbags.
I wasn't exaggerating when I called Sabu a genre unto himself. This film isn't built, plotted or constructed like anyone else's movies, or at least not since the arrival of talkies. (Buster Keaton would have admired this film.) However that Sabu-ness isn't an unmixed blessing. He can be explosively inventive in how he constructs his black farces, but the results here have significantly less emotional depth than usual for him. The cast are just comedy characters. (As with Hard Luck Hero, the film's a showcase for J-pop band V6. They're fine and they do the job, but no one's transcending the material and taking us inside them.)
It's clever, but thin. There's also a discussion to be had about pacing, because the farce's momentum is so unrelenting. I was laughing my head off, but I took a break anyway at the half-hour mark to watch something else.
That said, though, it still works like gangbusters and I was reeling with admiration. I have a tentative (and probably easily refuted) theory that the best films and books are the ones that make me want to write something myself. This film did that. It made me want to write something in its genre. Admittedly it's only good in one specific way, being clearly less substantial than his later work, but at what it does, it's dazzling. Comics would be good. A Sabu manga might even work better than a Sabu film, since comics are both a natural fit for this kind of material and uniquely capable of doing incompatible things simultaneously. (Live-action media are more restricted by realism.) You can do significant story or character progression in a comics panel that's also action, horror or even pornography, just by adding speech or thought bubbles.
The last half-hour slows down a lot. It becomes both staid (if it's possible to use that word of a massive five-way fight scene) and weird (the religious stuff). There are still funny gags, of course, mostly involving the busker, but the film's clearly running on less energy.
Incidentally, quite a few Sabu films address that theme of religion and/or the afterlife. There's a suicidal idiot priest who burned down his church (don't ask) and found a busker in the river. The floater looked like either a homeless man or a hippy. Lots of hair, not too bright and wearing clothes that were probably scavenged from rubbish bins. Our priest decides that he's literally found Jesus and ends up carrying a life-sized frozen crucifix into a land of the dead where he arguably has a drink with Satan (via Stanley Kubrick's The Shining), hears church bells and misses the bus that's leaving for heaven.
Is this a good film? Yes and no. It's fairly thin on some important measures, but it's also absolute gangbusters. (The last half-hour is weaker, though.) It's doing cleverer and better comedy within an hour than most directors manage in their entire careers. I almost died at the cops who arrange their cases in order of urgency. (What's beautiful about that scene, incidentally, is its languid pace. Sabu can do "slow" when he wants and he'll occasionally write odd, slippery, offbeat scenes that to me have the perspective of an actor.) If you're on its wavelength, there's so much here to love. I've been comparatively unkind about the cast, but they're perfect for the film they're in. The unlucky bank robbers! The police interrogation that turns into speed-dating, successfully. The two dodgy cops who can't decide who's the scary one, because one of them's watched Taxi Driver too often and the other changes personality when he gets behind a steering wheel.
I'm still a Sabu fan. I'm on a mission to watch all his films.