Hiroyuki TanakaSusumu TerajimaSansei ShiomiJunichi Okada
Hard Luck Hero
Medium: film
Year: 2003
Writer/director: Hiroyuki Tanaka ["Sabu"]
Keywords: yakuza
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Hiroshi Nagano, Yoshihiko Inohara, Go Morita, Ken Miyake, Junichi Okada, Sansei Shiomi, Susumu Terajima, Masayuki Sakamoto
Format: 79 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405004/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 12 April 2011
It's too long since I last watched a Sabu film! You'll remember Sabu. He's the director of films like Dangan Runner, Postman Blues, Unlucky Monkey and Monday, all of which have violence, yakuza, killings and an extreme sense of kinetic absurdity.
To refresh your memories on Sabu, he's deadpan to the point of coldness, but also capable of being explosively funny. Furthermore he writes the most unpredictable stories I've ever seen. His movies don't work by normal movie rules. Sabu delights in coincidence, black humour, death, unfairness and all kinds of other things that can throw his storylines in any direction at all. Me, I think he's great. You couldn't call his work cuddly and he got too uninvolving for me with Unlucky Monkey, but even so I think he makes unique movies that have practically created their own genre.
This one isn't his best, but it's still well worth hunting down. The problem is the characterisation, I think. Sabu made it as a vehicle for the Japanese boy band V6, although fortunately they don't embarrass themselves and Sabu even used them again two years later in Hold Up Down. However you couldn't say that any of them leap from the screen as acting superstars either, while Sabu's whiplash style of scriptwriting means that the cast isn't tending to get much character development as you or I would understand it.
I liked the first duo. They're great. The second duo took me by surprise and it took me a while to get accustomed to them, but then the third duo feel more like jigsaw puzzle pieces than people I'm meant to care about. They made me laugh at the end with those flowers in the hospital, but even so this isn't the film to choose if you're looking for rich characterisation or deep emotional involvement.
What it has instead is the same kind of thing Sabu's always shone at. I didn't have a clue what was going to happen. Anything could take place at any moment and it's a head trip just being on this ride with them. We start with a man (Junichi Okada) who works in a restaurant and doesn't seem too happy with life. One of his co-workers (Yoshihiko Inohara) though is extremely unhappy. "What's the problem?" "He hasn't come." Okada doesn't have a clue what Inohara's babbling about, but he soon discovers when a pair of boxing gloves gets shoved into his hands. You know the way sometimes a friend will ask you for a favour? You know the way you might say "yes" even when you shouldn't? This is one of those times.
The following scene has music and dancing girls. I particularly liked the Thai ones, although it's an effort not to stare at their dresses. What the hell are they wearing? Well, it's great theatre. I won't spoil where things go from there, but it turns into a non-linear interweaving storyline with people getting shot and yakuza car chases.
Sabu's movies are black comedies and this is no exception. There are several laugh-out-loud moments here and they all involve violence, pain or death. At one point I was convinced our heroes were about to deliberately run down a little old lady. I also found the first duo very likeable, while the second duo became more interesting as the film went on and even the third duo had their moments. The story's layers get ever more intricate... until the final ten minutes, whereupon we get a "what happened to them afterwards" that makes this feel more like a normal movie and has the twist that maybe after all we should be agreeing to more of our friends' outrageous requests after all.
You wouldn't want all movies to be like this. There's a reason why that's an unusual story structure. However it's a refreshing, interesting change of pace that contains at least two laughs as big as anything you'd expect from an out-and-out comedy. I can understand why Sabu isn't well known internationally, since there's something slightly alienating about him and he certainly doesn't make heartwarming films for everyone to enjoy. Personally though, I think he's one of the most interesting filmmakers currently working, and not just in Japan.