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KAN EGUCHI: THE FABLE: THE KILLER WHO DOESN'T KILL ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 (2021) - 2021 New York Asian Film Festival



Drawn out of hiding once again

Kan Eguchi’s The Fable screened as the centerpiece selection of the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival. This is a sequel likewise drawn from the manga series featuring the, well, fabulous yakuza hitman Akira Sato (Jun'ichi Okada), known as "Fable," pronounced in Japanese "favuru," still living undercover as a "normal" person in the city of Osaka. Sato still works part-time at design company Octopus with CEO Takoda (Jirô Satô) and employee Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto) doing cute drawings. Is this simply more of the same? Yes and no. There is more action this time and a different central plot-line. Once again - and even more - one realizes both how silly and how very accomplished these films are, the tech aspects, editing, acting and yes, even the writing first-rate, the plot and the characters, one hopes anyway, preposterous.

This episode has a passage of quiet in the first third, but it starts out in the first fifteen minutes with a flashback to the hero's pre-retirement past, in a very nifty, satisfyingly rapid series of killings followed by Fast and Furious-style extended car chase sequence, Japan rivaling Hollywood here (ending with a van careening off the top of a building) that turns out to be important for what follows.

This time, Yûya Yagira, the actor who became famous at fourteen starring in Koreeda's Nobody Knows, who made a splash playing a histrionic young ex-con, is absent. Instead there is much focus on Hinako (Yurina Hirate), a young woman who becomes disabled in that crash off the buiiding when she falls out of the van, and whom Sato runs into later on. Their uneasy relationship is the most human interest this movie has. Characters are developed. You may have an easier time figuring them out if you saw Fable #1. But though the concept of Sato trying not to be an action hero and then giving in and being one continues, even more this time it's the action itself that counts.

Yoko (Fumino Kimura), Fable/Sato's partner, is still living with him as his sibling. There are some bad guys looking for Sato, and he sees through their cover soon enough. when a man called Utsubo (Shinichi Tsutsumi) sets up shop as a non-profit worker supposedly concerned with protecting children, Sato suspects something is up. It turns out Utsubo works for rival contact killer Suzuki (Masanobu Ando) and together they're extorting their victims. (The byplay of their use of hidden cameras is a bit complicated.) Suzuki, Utsubo, & Co. are also looking for Fable. One day Suzuki comes in when Yoko is cooking (a feminine pose she's often found in). She subdues and humiliates him; Sato arrives and humiliates him further, sending him away in shame. From then the fight is on and Suzuki and Utsubo want Sato's blood.

The byplay with Hinako trying to get up and walk and Sato encouraging her to "visualize" and believe in herself shows the hitman's kindly side, and perhaps shame for all the mayhem and suffering his lifestyle has caused. It's also a bit corny and sentimental. Similarly the evilness of Utsubo, like the craziness of Yûya Yagira as Kojima in Fable #1, is an element that reminds us, lest we forget, that this is manga. However the byplay at the Octopus shop, with the histrionics of Jirô Satô as Takoda, has a camaraderie, a knowing sense of continuing with familiar characters, that works very well to develop the film's quiet side, as well as its humorous side, convincingly.

But the part viewers of Fable: The Killer Who Doesn't Kill are most likely to remember is an extended melee on the outside of a high-rise building covered with metal scaffolding - whose gradual collapse Sato makes ingenious use of, with bruising parkour-style leaps, as he battles dozens of snipers and heavies. A description I wrote about the action sequence of Fable #1 fits perfectly when I say it all "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." Similarly delicious, this time, is the sharp thrup of silenced bullets picking off victims in the open sequence: this filmmaker knows action must delight the ear as well as the eye.

It turns out the main actor of these films, Jun'ichi Okada, was originally known as a singer in a "boy band." How on earth, one wonders, did such an effete existence prepare him for the beating he takes on those scaffoldings?

Again based on the manga of Katsuhisa Minami, but with a different cowriter, Masahiro Yamaura.

Fable: The Killer Who Doesn't Kill ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋, 133 mins., debuted at Shanghai Jun. 12, 2021, opening theatrically in Japan Jun. 18, also showing Jul. 2 at Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival. It was screened for this review as part of the Aug. 6-22, 2021 NY Asian Film Festival (shown Aug. 15).

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