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Archive for November 16th, 2012

Sabu (2002)

Sabu and Eiji have been best friends since they were small. They work as poor trainees in a traditional umbrella store by the time they become adults. Eiji is falsely accused as a thief when a gold embroidery cloth is found in his tool box and he is shipped off to the prison island of Ishikawa where he is made to work as a labour worker. The seething anger inside of him and his attitude to work there makes him have many enemies and he takes his anger out on those people. He keeps on thinking of ways to take revenge on the person who falsely incriminated him. During this period, Sabu hasn’t forgotten about his best friend and regularly visits him but Eiji doesn’t want to know. He thinks it’s best if Sabu forgets about him. As time goes by, Eiji starts changing and gradually becomes friends with some of his co-prisoners. He even tries to contain his anger and present a cool and calm demeanor. After many years of being a prisoner, Eiji is released from prison and the person that put him into prison is finally revealed.

Think you know everything about Takashi Miike and what kind of movies he makes? It’s time for you to think again as Miike reveals yet another layer to his directing skills in this made-for-TV movie set in the Samurai era. When you think of TV movies in the West you usually think of cheap low budget features but not so in Japan. Sabu is more or less a high quality feature length movie which could have easily been given a cinematic release there. This isn’t a samurai movie at all, instead it focuses on 2 of the common people who both come from impoverished backgrounds. It’s a tale about 2 best friends maturing and confronting challenges that life thrusts upon them. Those expecting a movie full of Miike’s usual mix of extreme violence and sex are going to be very disappointed. There is some violence but it doesn’t come close to the level normally associated with Miike. Don’t let the opening shot of a woman’s corpse hanging from a tree lull you into thinking this is going to be a typical Miike feature either. In this movie he proves that he can deliver on character driven stories as well. Violent yakuza movies may be his forte but as I’ve seen time after time he can turn his hand to any genre he wants and make a genuinely good movie out of it.

Unfortunately this movie which runs for 2 hours is a good 30 mins too long for my liking. The plot unfolds at a sedate pace which may bore some people. This movie is very pleasing on the eye and some of the atmospheric scenes come close to looking like landscape paintings. Why Miike has called this movie Sabu is a bit of a strange one as the story is more about Eiji and the injustice against him. He’s the more dynamic and interesting character of the two. Satoshi Tsumabuki and Tatsuya Fujiwara play their roles well.

I wouldn’t class Sabu as being one of Miike’s best by a long shot. This is Miike being more sober and patient rather than relying on his excessive tendencies. As a competent and finely crafted period movie it has plenty on offer to satisfy his fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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