isn't your ordinary chase movie. Director
Sabu (aka Hiroyuki Tanaka) has a lot to
say about the ordinary chase movie and
panache aplenty to try to take it to the
next level. Released in Japan in 1996,
Sabu's first film finally hits American
screens thanks to the people at Shooting
Gallery and, presumably, the success of
foreign indie crime dramas it resembles
such as RUN LOLA RUN and LOCK, STOCK,
AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS. While it does
have many similarities to those two-interconnected
characters and plotlines, stylish camera
work, and the whole hip gangster thing-NON-STOP
is more, well, arty.
down-on-his-luck chef Yasuda (Tamaguchi)
sees courage and strength in the 9mm he
has chosen to use to rob a bank. Before
he gets to the actual robbery, which he
has meticulously plotted on his digital
watch, he realizes that he's left his
mask behind. Aizawa (Yukai), a junkie
convenience store clerk with dreams of
rock stardom, catches Yasuda trying to
steal a mask from his store and, wounded
by Yasuda's gun, takes to the streets
after the inept thief. Takeda (Tsutsumi),
a Yakuza heavy, stumbles across the two
and joins the pursuit in order to collect
Aizawa's overdue smack payments. Meanwhile,
a gang war boils and threatens to collide
with the three runners.
deftly blends flashbacks and fantasy sequences
into a grab bag of character history,
symbolism, and miscellany. A Yakuza mob
boss fantasizes about dying honorably
and his henchmen waxing rhapsodic about
his honor in a verité style documentary
(one Yakuza even pushes a camera away,
refusing to make comment). The delirious
runners fantasize about their beloved
gone or dead, some breaking into dance.
The fantasies are some of the richest
moments in the film, giving it a heart
that would otherwise be absent. The flashbacks
are slower, but lend structural integrity
to the exercise.
the elements of the action comedy with
broad satire of the entire genre, Sabu
is more concerned with examining the honor,
violence, and the effects of violent movies.
The run eventually becomes less about
the chase than the run itself. The characters
give way to their fantasies and become
exhilarated by life instead of death.
It's no surprise that Sabu is criticizing
the genre that he's working in. He lingers
on characters fondling their weapons,
shooting them from low angles to make
it more menacing. Overly macho and honorable
men are given hasty and ironic deaths
that don't live up to their fantasies.
What is surprising is how Sabu lets it
all end in a nihilistic blaze reminiscent
of "Beat" Takeshi Kitano's FIREWORKS.
as trenchant as Sabu's satire is, it's
often as muddled as the rest of the film.
Shifting from mood to mood, the film never
finds a solid pace to stay in and ends
up being only sporadically entertaining.
It may be a case of a first-time filmmaker
trying to throw too much in at the same
time. Despite the problem with pacing
and trying to be all things to all people,
NON-STOP is never simple. It's challenging
enough to make me want to see the next
three films that Sabu has made, as soon
as they reach America's shores.