jam Dir: Sabu (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

jam    jam Film Poster

Release Date: December 01st, 2018

Duration: 102 mins.

Director:  SABU

Writer: SABU (Screenplay),

Starring: Sho Aoyagi, Keita Machida, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Shintaro Akiyama, Mariko Tsutsui, Yuta Ozawa, Kanta Sato,

Website IMDB

Sabu’s films frequently feature hapless heroes thrown into dangerous circumstances where they are subject to spates of seemingly random encounters, weird coincidences and serendipitous occurrences that all eventually fit together like a jigsaw to reveal smartly constructed narratives that seem free-form but actually tease the idea of fate guiding everything. Jam (2018) features this, however, unlike Sabu’s earlier titles like Dangan Runner (1996) and Postman Blues (1997) which are high tension bounce-about thrillers complete with adrenaline fuelled chases, this one follows the trend of his latest works like Mr Long (2017) and Miss Zombie (2013) by being more contemplative and downbeat. Jam still has time for an awesome chase.

The tail-end of the aforementioned chase on the streets of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, starts the film as a man is about to be run down by an out of control car before the narrative rewinds things to 48 hours earlier. The man is Hiroshi (Sho Aoyagi), an enka idol who serenades his audiences from the stage but, despite the lovely lyrics of unforgettable romance, proves to be super disingenuous as he heartlessly fleeces his middle-aged fan-base who shower him with gifts, money and affection. One fan named Masako (Mariko Tsutsui) wants the perfect performance from him and to set this up she drugs him and takes him home to help him “prepare”. Masako is a slim lady so it’s fortunate that she gets help from Takeru (Keita Machida) who drives by in his car and gives them a lift to her home. This is just one of five good deeds he performs every day in the hopes that his girlfriend wakes up from the coma she is in. Why five good deeds? God told him to do it. Last but not least is Tetsuo (Nobuyuki Suzuki), a man who wants to take revenge on the yakuza who let him take the fall for a crime that left him in prison. Upon his release, the day of Hiroshi’s kidnapping, he heads to the gang’s hideout with nothing but a hammer and a desire to punish his betrayers. After meting out some justice, he heads home to his grandmother’s place and takes her out in her wheelchair to the train station as the gang look for him to get revenge.

jam Nobuyuki Suzuki

These people find their lives intersect and the truth of who each person is and how they come to meet in a potential traffic accident is unfurled with skill as initially unconnected sequences from totally separate narratives emerge and combine to enhance the overall narrative with poise and show that maybe fate does play a hand in things.

At the root of the story is the idea of karmic justice and the three men, lost in some form of self-conceit and trapped by circumstances, act in such a way that the universe responds by drawing them down certain paths until they are forced together to face a reckoning, something which is nudged forward by glimpses of supernatural beings as well as a certain human desperation that gives their journeys poignancy and meaning.

The film was made under the auspices of the LDH production, the parent company of which manages the Gekidan EXILE group so many members from that group take roles in the film. Nobuyuki Suzuki and Keita Machida do a good job as their characters bringing different tones with their hard-boiled and easygoing personas respectively. Sho Aoyagi (who performed quite movingly for Sabu on Mr. Long) proves really effective as the highly conceited crooner who is burnt-out before his years. He brilliantly shows the gap between the fantasy he presents his fans and the reality of his cynicism and it leads to a hilarious take-down brought about by his number one fan, the lonely and obsessive Masako. There is equal parts humour and tragedy in the barnstorming performance that Mariko Tsutsui gives as the woman. She is utterly charming as the fan made deranged by loneliness and desperation that she tugs on our heartstrings with every look of hope and giddiness she gives so that Masako gets redeemed at the end in an emotionally moving sequence that shows the pure love she puts into her actions and it helps to believably redeem Aoyagi’s character Hiroshi.

jam Sho Aoyagi and Mariko Tsutsui

Direction is perfect although while the film is billed as an action comedy there is grit and melancholy that the black humour is couched in. The fights are kinetic and physical enough to keep the movie pulsing, especially with a lot of shakeycam camerawork backing up the actors who throw themselves around enough to make it look like a scuffle, but Sabu recaptures some of his early career verve with the breathless chase sequence where different characters are running through shotengai and driving on the road, inter-cutting their chaotic journey together in the lead-up to a satisfying finale where this tragicomic narrative ends by showing everyone is redeemable, if they make the right choices, and the ending suggests that, while hard, some form of peace can be found in life so long as you put in good work.

Jam Dir: Sabu (2018) will be screened as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival on July 08th at 18:30. It will be followed by Sabu’s 2017 film Mr. Long at 21:15. Both films will be shown with Sabu in attendance for a Q&A.

Check out my review of Mr. Long over at VCinema

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