Suzuki MatsuoTomorowo TaguchiSansei ShiomiKeisuke Horibe
Medium: film
Year: 2002
Writer/director: Hiroyuki Tanaka ["Sabu"]
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Shin'ichi Tsutsumi, Ren Osugi, Ko Shibasaki, Masanobu Ando, Toshio Kakei, Susumu Terajima, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Kanji Tsuda, Keisuke Horibe, Akemi Kobayashi, Akaji Maro, Suzuki Matsuo, Yutaka Matsushige, Kumi Nakamura, Toshie Negishi, Nao Ohmori, Sansei Shiomi, Tomorowo Taguchi, Tamayo
Format: 102 minutes
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 12 May 2011
That was random, even for Sabu. I expect to be surprised by a Sabu film, but this one goes off on tangents that are unusual even for him and is liable to let its main characters walk right out of the movie.
I'll describe some of the plot. Shin'ichi Tsutsumi plays an uptight salaryman with stress headaches and an utter inability to step outside the box, which is amusing when bank robbers jump into his car. Okay, that's enough. What's different this time though is that in Sabu's earlier films, this would have led to kinetic action and fatalities. Here, not so much. I won't try to pretend that the film contains no fatal injuries, but the pace is perhaps more relaxed than before and Sabu's even happier than usual to go off on bewildering tangents with supporting characters. His style's evolving, following on from Monday. I've heard that subsequent films like Blessing Bell would be even less frenetic, which is good. I like artists who push themselves forward.
Then we have the ghosts. There are ghosts in this film and you can't explain them away by pointing out that sometimes they appear in near-death hallucination sequences. One of the characters is approximately a Buddhist priest and he can see people's auras, which inspires him to give them valuable life advice and, on one occasion, also a vicious kicking. (He's not a nice person.) Apparently everyone you'll meet and everything you'll do was decided in advance 500 generations ago. Yup, a Sabu character who believes in fate. You can't say it doesn't fit.
I enjoyed the film, but it occasionally gave me whiplash. Sometimes it's very, very funny. However at other times it's slightly baffling, as Sabu abandons what had hitherto appeared to be the plot in order to have one of the characters find their fate. You know, I do believe we have a theme. Fate in a Sabu film has always been whimsical, cruel and all-powerful, but here for once I think he's consciously addressing this.
The cast contains lots of recognisable faces. Shin'ichi Tsutsumi, Ren Osugi and Susumu Terajima are three old warhorses whom you'll see in a lot of Japanese movies, often involving yakuza. All are good, needless to say. This would be the fifth and final Sabu film in which Tsutsumi played the lead role, but not because they had a fight or anything. They just felt it's better in principle to shake things up a bit and try to work with new people. Anyway, you can never go wrong with Osugi and Terajima, but Tsutsumi's one of those tall, impassive Japanese actors who just stand there doing nothing and expect you to read volumes into their most understated eyebrow flick. You might be wondering why I like him. I suppose the difference between him and someone like Tadanobu Asano (whom I don't mind, actually) is that Tsutsumi always gives me the impression of suppressed force. His inaction doesn't feel like inaction, but like a trap being wound just a little bit tighter. He's intimidating.
Mind you, that's also part of the character he's playing here. Is he autistic? Is he a suppressed psychopath with rigid self-control and a fetish for following all the rules? Incidentally we first see him as he's being diagnosed for his migraines, after which we get flashbacks to his parents' suicides. (I didn't realise that's what they were at the time, but they are.)
If you've got an audience who can live with some plot switchbacks, this might be a good gateway Sabu film for people who aren't into gangsters and yakuza. It's not as extreme as some of them. It's lighter. The death toll's comparatively modest, it made me laugh and the ending in particular is both funny and charming. It left a smile on my face and made the film a clear recommendation. The ghosts are unexpected, especially when the samurai turns up at the end and turns this into a samurai flick, but then again Monday had Japanese demons and at least no one here is the personification of Satan.
Particularly memorable things about this film include Terajima's Buddhism, the ranting aunt and, thinking about it, Tsutsumi's protagonist. He's wooden and repressed, but you've got to respect the way he sticks to his guns and refuses to compromise even when he has a knife in his face or the opportunity of a lifetime in his hands. He learns. He chooses his fate, just like the others. In the end, I found him rather sweet.