Sunday, 6 April 2014


Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Hiroshi Takeyama
Producer: Jun Haraguchi, Tsukasa Ikegami
Cast: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kazue Fukiishi
Year of release: 2002
Country: Japan
Reviewed from: R1 DVD (Artsmagic)

Although Takashi Miike may be notorious for the broad variety of films he has made in his packed directorial career, nevertheless Sabu stands out as unusual. In fact it's unusual by being relatively normal, certainly by the standards of the man who brought us Ichi the Killer, Audition, Fudoh: The New Generation and Happiness of the Katakuris (all of which were photographed, like this film, by cinematographer Hideo Yamamoto). It's the only historical drama which Miike has (so far) helmed, an adaptation of a novel by Yamamoto Shugoro which was made to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Nagoya Television.

Satoshi Tsumabuki (Tomie: Rebirth) plays Eiji, sentenced to hard labour on an island prison for stealing from his employer. Tatsuya Fujiwara (Battle Royale) is his childhood friend and colleague Sabu who believes in Eiji's innocence and tries to find out who framed him. And that's about it in terms of plot but there's a great deal more in terms of character. For his first few months on the island, Eiji doesn't say a word. And when Sabu asks around about his friend - they grew up together in an orphanage and were apprenticed together to a maker of paper doors - he is warned not investigate any further. Complicating matters slightly is the boys' shared attraction to Osue (Kazue Fukiishi: Samurai Resurrection).

The bulk of the film switches back and forth between Sabu's bewilderment, failing to understand the local politics and machiavellian going-on which surround his friend, and Eiji's life in prison where he is initially rejected as a loner but gradually becomes respected. There's a terrific scene when a destructive storm hits the island and the prisoners are granted their freedom in order to allow them to survive, yet Eiji rallies them and leads an effort to save the buildings and put out the raging fires.

Though there is a certain amount of violence, directed with Miike's expected realism and grittiness, and the involvement of some organised crime, this is not in any way a horror movie or yakuza picture. It is beautifully shot (and presented in terrific widescreen) and shows that Miike can direct wonderfully without any sort of gimmick. It's not like anything else he has done (at least, any of his other pictures that I have seen) but in that sense it resembles his other pictures in that most distinctive of Miike-esque ways - by not being like any of his other pictures.

Artsmagic's disc contains the two-hour TV version rather than the shorter theatrical edit and is packed with extras including interviews, promotional materials and Yours Truly's bio-filmographies of cast and director. They have for some reason used the Miike biography I wrote for Rainy Dog rather than the one I did for Sabu, but it's only one paragraph different…

MJS rating: A-

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