Dir: Takashi Miike
Star: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Tomoko Tabata, Kazue Fukiishi
Cert / Year: 12 - R / 2002
Format: DVD R0

ArtsmagicDVD.COM - Japanese Film Specialist
Artsmagic.CO.UK - Japanese Film Specialist ArtsmagicDVD.COM - Japanese Film Specialist

Set in the 'Tokugawa Era, Sabu is the tale of a young apprentice paper hanger named Eiji (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who is framed for a crime which he didn't commit. Such dishonour ensures that Eiji will be unable to get work or marry and have a life, if he survives the harsh realities of prison / workcamp life at the feared Ishikawa Island prison camp. Eiji's only visitor is his best friend Sabu (Satoshi Tsumabuki) who helps Eiji get through his sentence and try to discover who set him up. Whilst Sabu tries to investigate the crime, which everyone seems intent upon covering up Eiji meets the bullying, fighting and even some corruption head on as he fights to survive his incarceration and see the girl he loves.

Takashi Miike isn't particularly well known for his traditional or period films and his tendency to make films at the more extreme side of the Asian cinema genre ( Audition, Ichi the Killer ) has earned him a well deserved reputation and a prominent place as one of Japan's top action directors. Compared to some of his other works, it would be fair to say that Sabu is a very subdued film as many of the Miike foibles aren't here. That doesn't necessarily mean that it is a bad thing, as this 'Jidageki' (period) traditional piece is a deep and enchanting romantic rites of passage tale. I should point out at this juncture that a large majority of Asian romance movies / stories are not particuarly straightforward and rarely end 'happily ever after' so don't expect Love Actually or anything like that here.

The direction is excellent, with Miike yet again displaying a superb eye, as he realises his own ambition of bringing this story to the screen from the popular Asian novel by Shugoro Yamamoto. At times the story is a little grim and you do pity Eiji as he is forced to endure his dishonour and there are several sub plots that also kick in. Produced by the Asahi National Broadcasting Company, who also produced the classic TV period drama Shogun and the recent Takeshi 'Beat' Kitano adaptation of Zat˘ichi, Sabu is a little slow in places but sports some well designed dramatic moments and a couple of good, but tempered action scenes. There are no sword fights, no blistering action and spraying blood scenes and no dismemberment (for a change). In fact at times you even question whether this is actually a Takashi Miike film at all. It has to be said that Miike does get a lot of criticism for his particular niche in cinema, and if there were a film to silence the critics who suggest that he is only capable of making excessive and violent films, then this is it.

A good cast provide some firm and compelling performances and Satoshi Tsumabuki works very well as the self-effacing titular character. The real lead here though is Eiji, played by teen idol Tatsuya Fujiwara who delivers a good performance, whilst bringing the same intensity he exhibited in the excellent Battle Royale to the mix. Here he shows he has more range to his performances and seems quite at home in a 'period' setting whilst enjoying some good on screen chemisrty with the other cast. The delicate depiction of the bond between these two young men and the subsequent relationships they share with their women is well accomplished. Kazue Fukiishi and Tomoko Tabata are very well cast and splendidly portray the female interests to the story, exhibiting some good poise and presence.

A film that begins with a young woman hanging herself from a tree is NOT going to be a cheery affair. The story has romance, betrayal, friendship, jealousy and love all brought together as a well layered and delightfully constructed yarn with a sensitive streak devoid of much of Miike's usual intense flair. The early portion of the film features some superb photography and direction in places, but the occasionally slow and intermittent pacing lets it down a bit.

Admittedly, I am quite a fan of Miike's work (not just the more 'demanding' titles I hasten to add) and I like this film. Yes, it could be seen as a departure from the norm when compared to his other works, but it has a certain bold and sincere quality to it, which affords it a wider appeal and a more purposeful narrative. This is a fine example of good direction, courtesy of Miike and a likeable and compelling film, undeniably different and proving that Takashi Miike is capable of some beautiful work. Sabu isn't going to appeal to everyone unfortunately, but if you like non-martial arts based Jidageki or are a sucker for a 'romance' even if it is of the Asian variety, then this is the one for you.


Other people don't matter

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Picture 2.35:1 Anamorphic Excellent transfer good clean image
Audio Dolby Stereo Good soundtrack nice and clear even if it doesn't make full use of the format.
Features The Making Of Sabu
Artwork Gallery
Interview With Sabu's Female Leads Omoko Tabata and Kazue Fukiishi
Interview Stars Tatsuya Fujiwara and Satoshi Tsumabuki
Original trailers - Theatrical and TV
2 short but interesting interviews With Director Takashi Miike
Biographies and Filmographies
Verdict A good presentation for a relatively small film really, if you don't like subtitles or you are unable to read them this may be a problem as there is no dubbed track. The guys at Artsmagic DVD are getting some good material for 'extras' and producing some decent discs.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home