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Non-Stop (NR)
Shooting Gallery

Official Site

Director: Sabu

Producer: Masaya Nakamura, Moto Seta

Written by: Sabu

Cast: Tomoru Taguchi, Daimond Yukai, Shinichi Tsutsumi

Rating: out of 5

This 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.

Weaselly, 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.

Sabu 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.

Combining 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.

Yet, 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.

-Jonpaul Guinn

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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