Monday, July 01, 2019

NYAFF ’19: The Fable

Akira Sato was supposed to just mark time in what could be considered the Yakuza equivalent of Witness Protection. An Osaka clan allied with his boss will put him up in an unassuming suburban home. All he has to do is act normal. However, that will be the only part of being a Yakuza hitman that has ever been a struggle for him—especially the inconvenient moratorium on killing people. Trouble will inevitably find its way to his incognito doorstep in Kan Eguchi’s The Fable, which screens as the centerpiece selection of the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival.

The hitman known to many simply as “The Fable” is the best in the business, because he was trained by the best—his father—as we will see in flashbacks. He will take out a room full of rival Yakuza in the opening action scene like it was nothing, but his boss deems it time for him to lay low for a while afterward. Unfortunately, a couple of young, nihilistic rivals want to make their name by killing The Fable, so they will follow his trail to Osaka.

Frankly, Yoko, Sato’s femme fatale assistant might have a harder time enduring Osaka’s quiet respectability. As a natural stoic, Sato can work menial delivery job without complaints. He just might even develop a human relationship with his Misaki, a cute and naïve co-worker. However, he just can’t help acting weird, due to his lack of socialization. Regardless, his foray into normalcy will be short-lived when his host requests his help to quell a territorial power struggle.

Based on Katsuhisa Minami’s manga, The Fable combines goofball humor with wild over-the-top action set pieces (performed by the Jackie Chan Stunt Team). In terms of tone, it hits roughly the same notes as Takashi Miike’s Mole Song movies, but Eguchi and screenwriter Yusuke Watanabe often use crass cheeseball humor to satirize the crassness and cheesiness of Japanese mass media.

Jun’ichi Okada is quite the game stone-faced straight man as The Fable. Yuya Yagira is flamboyantly villainous as Kojima, a recent parolee making all kinds of trouble as the wild card in the brewing Yakuza civil war. Mizuki Yamamoto is certainly endearing as the innocent Misaki, but Fumino Kimura steals scene after scene as the elegant but dangerous Yoko (remember Marian Crane’s drinking contest at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark? That’s her idea of a good way to kill time).

The Fable is not exactly high art, even among big screen manga adaptations, but it certainly zips along. It is sort of like My Blue Heaven with a higher body count and arguably a bigger heart. Despite his social awkwardness, Sato is one of the more appealing movie assassins of recent vintage. Recommended for fans of wild Yakuza films, The Fable screens tomorrow (7/2), as part of NYAFF ’19.