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Everymen in Trouble: The Punk-Rock Comedies of Sabu

January 23, 2011 BelowTheLine No Comments

by Steve Dollar


If there is a signature sequence that defines a movie directed by Sabu, it’s the never-ending chase that pretty much consumes the entire 82 minutes of his 1996 debut, Non-Stop (aka Dangan Runner). Tomorowo Taguchi, rock singer and star of the all-time Japanese cult classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man, is Yasuda, an everyman as inept as he is desperate. His plans to pull a bank heist go haywire, since everything always goes haywire a few minutes into a Sabu plot. But they go haywire in really nutty, unpredictable ways. In this case, the would-be bandit stops by a convenience store to shoplift a gauze mask for putative use as a disguise. As we see in a fantasy staging of the robbery, it makes a lousy and absurd choice. And Yasuda isn’t even much of a petty thief: A quartet of schoolgirls observes his actions amid giggles: “It’s so embarrassing,” one says. And when the long-haired clerk Aizawa (fellow rock musician Diamond Yukai) confronts him, the dope clumsily fires off a shot from a handgun. For a single heartbeat of a frozen moment, this hapless loser is vaguely in control. But then he quickly loses his grip. The clerk grabs the pistol and Yasuda hurtles out the door, running for his life.

Non-Stop (1996) The marathon that ensues will soon collect a third competitor: a low-level Yakuza (Sabu’s steady lead actor, Shinichi Tsutsumi, who turns out to be the junkie clerk’s drug dealer, bowled over in the street as the pair carom into him—and a bystander gets shot to death). Speechless minutes go by, leaving the audience time to ponder the influence of silent comedy and vintage inanities like The Three Stooges and influence on contemporary inanities like Rush Hour, and the trio rounds a corner to spy a beautiful young woman in a short skirt bending down to retrieve a fallen handkerchief. Close-ups of each man trigger three different sex fantasies, scaled to varying degrees of passion, aggression and nudity, and offset hilariously by the physical rigors they endure—heavy breathing becoming a double entendre. On the soundtrack, bongos percolate amid the tinny drizzle of a xylophone. And the fantasies and flashbacks continue.

As if these guys aren’t trouble enough on their own, they become somehow enmeshed with a gang war.

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