Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2019 5:57 am 
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Being "normal" is too difficult for a yakuza hitman

This wildly absurd, over-the-top gangster film (but aren't they all?) has just that extra edge of absurdity that is explained by one thing: it's from manga. The central figure, "the Fable," pronounced "za faburu," a legendary yakuza hit man whose existence some think is purely mythical till they find out otherwise, is Sato (Jun'ichi Okada), an ace, invincible professional killer put on leave by his boss (Kôichi Satô). His orders are to act "normal" for one year, because his boss thinks "top assassins need that skill." Sato goes underground in Osaka (at first exaggeratedly imitating the rural Osaka accent) with his hotshot female sidekick. He starts dressing in casual, nondescript clothes. He is commanded to get a "normal" job. It's hard for him to find work because he refuses to pretend he likes any activity he might be hired to do. Finally Sato meets Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto), a charming woman, who helps him work at a publisher as a handyman. There, he develops a new talent, raising his pay from 800 yen an hour to 900 (laughably little either way for a hit man), by doing childlike doodle-drawings that seem so charming to the boss because they "make people happy." These drawings indulge a kind of cuteness peculiar to the Japanese taste.

This film also notably contains Yûya Yagira, who won the Best Actor award at Cannes in 2004 at the uniquely young age of 14 for his first movie role n Hirakasu Koreeda's extraordinary Nobody Knows (誰も知らない Dare mo Shiranai). Here Yagira takes the role of Kojima, a wild, absurdly egotistical and histrionic young gangster type just released from eight years in prison. The boss has trouble keeping Kojima in check, being, through much of the film, in the hospital for a stroke. (He has to have someone else keep an eye on Sato.) The boss has ordered Kojima to do nothing till he is up and about to watch over him. But that doesn't quite work. This story is about the need for control. Yagira's wild histrionics, his facial expressions and drawn out, comically menacing or chortling speech, help make this clear manga material and more a caricature of a gangster movie than a serious one.

Misaki has posed for "art" photos. When Kojima finds this out and starts trying to force her to pose for porn, she is in danger, and when Sato finds out about this, he cannot allow it. He is going to have to find a way of getting around his overlord's restrictions on his behavior. This finally leads to a prolonged sequence of violent martial arts action involving hand-to-hand combat and shooting. The movie is quite restrained till then, late in the game, it explodes into wild but carefully choreographed chaos on a network of railings and metal and concrete stairways. The sound of the bullets clatters deliciously and so does the click of feet on metal. All this is reportedly staged "by Jackie Clan's crew." The festival blurb concludes, "The Fable is a vibrant pastiche of kinetic storytelling, wry humor, nail-biting suspense, and hyperbolic action." It's kinda true, but you might enjoy this a lot more if you keep reminding yourself, "Forget it Jake, it's manga."

The original manga is by Katsuhisa Minami, the screenplay by Watanabe Yutsuke.

In his "normal" life Sato keeps a parakeet in his room, his only decoration, which reminded me of Alain Delon's canary in Jean-Pierre Melville's classic Le Samouraï . But if Eguchi could achieve the iconic austerity of Melville, he'd have made quite another movie. (I didn't even get to the legendary origin story flashbacks of this chock-full film.)

The Fable ザ・ファブル (kitagana transliteration for "Fable"), 125 mins., has four festival releases listed in June and July 2019, starting with Shanghai June 15, and including the NYAFF, where it was screened for this review.
NYFF showtime
Tuesday, July 2
6:00 PM
Walter Reade Theater


©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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