The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill
ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 「The Fable: Korosanai Koroshiya」
Release Date: June 18th 2021
Duration: 123 mins.
Director: Kan Eguchi
Writer: Kan Eguchi, Masahiro Yamaura (Script), Katsuhisa Minami (Original Manga)
Starring: Junichi Okada, Fumino Kimura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Yurina Hirate, Masanobu Ando, Mizuki Yamamoto, Ken Yasuda, Jiro Sato, Daisuke Miyagawa, Manami Hashimoto,
Films based on manga are quite ubiquitous in Japan but few have qualities that gain the traction to make it onto the radars of global audiences the way the Rurouni Kenshin live-action films have. The closest has arguably been 2019’s well-reviewed The Fable which featured a combination of eccentric characters, quirky comedy, and a pair of attention-grabbing action set-pieces (choreographed by the Jackie Chan stunt team) that bookended proceedings. For the sequel, The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill, it is a case of more of the same as the director and cast return in a film which has a similar structure and feel to the previous instalment.
Once again we are in the company of Akira Sato (Junichi Okada) A.K.A, The Fable. Behind his innocuously naïve and spaced-out persona lies a killing machine who is a legend in the criminal underworld. In the first film, his body-count had become so outrageous, his boss ordered him to keep a low profile in Osaka with his handler Yoko (Fumino Kimura) with strict orders not to kill anyone or anything. Sato now works a part-time job at a design company where his colleagues and new-found friends remain unaware of his hidden life but maintaining this deception soon proves impossible when a former target from Sato’s murky past re-emerges.
A slice of Sato’s backstory opens the film as we get a flashback sequence of him dispatching a line-up of yakuza around Tokyo before it culminates in a final hit marked by an exhilarating series of practical stunts involving a runaway minivan in a car park, our hero clambering from the hood to the trunk while trying to dodge oncoming hazards, all whilst trying to save a teenage girl in the back. Said teenage girl, Hinako (Yurina Hinate), becomes key to the film’s plot as she brings Sato face-to-face with his past and a sense of guilt over his involvement in her paralysis as the two reunite in Osaka, ten years after their dramatic encounter. If this presents an opportunity of self-reflection for Sato, it isn’t taken by the story as her re-emergence serves to lay tracks leading to an action-packed finale.
Like the first film, the middle part is slow going but the top-notch cast keep proceedings alive. Beyond a little character building that cements some emotional bonds between Sato and Hinako, the film spends more time with a convoluted subplot that takes out a side character from the first film and connects Sato with his antagonist, a seemingly nice guy named Utsubo who runs an NPO which acts as a front for scams, extortion, and contract killings. Utsubo’s reasoning for a vendetta with Sato is cliched stuff made engaging by the performance of Shinichi Tsutsumi who is so theatrically villainous, it brings flashbacks to his turn in Why Don’t You Play in Hell (2013). Matching him is Junichi Okada who brings a pitch-perfect deadpan performance to the socially awkward hitman who loves the schoolboy humour of his hero Jackal Tomioka and his severe case of ‘Nekojita’, a tongue super-sensitive to hot food. At times it definitely drags and characters barely grow as plotting towards the final battle becomes the focus, but when the finale comes, it is worth it.
Action director Makoto Yokoyama replaces the Jackie Chan stunt team for the sequel and brings an astonishing non-stop 20-minute action sequence that takes place in an apartment building covered with scaffolding. Sato turns full Fable as he dons a balaclava and does some insane parkour as he hops between floors and dashes down corridors, all while taking out a small army of martial artists and grenade-equipped gunmen who are rappelling all around him AND contending with booby traps, keeping civilians safe, and evading a sniper. This is comic-book movie stuff with bullets, fists, kicks, and bodies flying about in ways that only movies can do it but few films reach this level of experience as tension, excitement, and surprise are drawn out through the sheer physicality and inventiveness. It is so much fun as we are aware it is real people doing real stunt sequences in the real world (with some CG is used) with everyday objects and fighting done in ingenious ways that makes it edge-of-the-seat stuff. If most of the film is similar to the first instalment, this set piece is significantly different enough and exciting that it raises the film to another level.
The film has to calm down and end on a moment of drama but despite feeling that the film dragged in the middle and it was reusing familiar formulas, I found enough emotional energy was built up to make it quite moving as Sato comes to fully confront his impact on Hinako and make some amends. I think part of me getting emotional must have been having survived that last battle scene which stands as the best action I have seen in 2021 and so I suggest that action fans watch this film.
My review was edited and published on V-Cinema on August 09th. It plays as part of the New York Asian Film Festival 2021 on Sunday, August 15th.