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Sabu (Miike Takashi 2002)



Genre: Loyalty Drama [Edo Era: 1603-1867 AD]

review in one breath

Sabu is directed by Miike Takashi and is based on the classic novel by Yamamoto Shugoro. It provides an impressive exploration of the depths and complexities of friendship and loyalty between two childhood friends who mature into harsher realities. Director Miike Takashi is undoubtedly notorious for a certain genre of film, but his direction of the much more traditional Sabu is flawless. The film was intended as a commemorative broadcast for the 40th anniversary of Nagoya Television. The project pulled in significant talent for both the production and cast, and the final result is nothing short of a compelling film which in no way resembles a made-for-television production.

The title Sabu refers to the name of one of our two main characters (played by Tsumabuki Satoshi - of Dragon Head and Tomie: Rebirth) . His relative innocence and naivete provides the undercurrent for the entire story, and thus the film is named after him. He is not, however, the "main" character. That would be "Eiji", his childhood friend who through continual encouragement has made Sabu the man he is today. (Eiji is played by Fujiwara Tatsuya - of Battle Royale, Battle Royale 2, and Kamen Gakuen). Both Eiji and Sabu were virtually orphaned at a very young age and were taken in as apprentices by the town's papersmith. That is, they learn the craft of making seamless Shoji - the paper doors permeating (even contemporary) Japanese homes.

Eiji is suddenly accused, apparently falsely, of a serious crime and is sentenced to a harsh imprisonment on Ishikawa Island. This, of course, not only ruins his life but also the life of any claiming to be his associate. Driven by friendship and the conviction that Eiji is innocent, Sabu persistently pursues the matter until he himself is ostracized by society. While Sabu's hope is exclusively for Eiji's restoration, Eiji himself has now dedicated himself to a violent retribution of those who he believes framed him for this crime. What follows is indeed a very compelling complexity of good and evil.

This film is purely about the depth of meaningful loyal relationships. Not simply the relationships between our main characters, but among every character in this film. The complexity and development of this story's many characters and their interaction is nothing short of impressive. No doubt thanks to the insights of author Yamamoto Shugoro, and director Miike's ability to convey that insight, this film explores moral goodness in ways reminiscent of Inagaki Hiroshi's Samurai Trilogy (1954, 55, 56 - with Mifune Toshiro).

I can strongly recommend this film for those who enjoy classic Japanese drama. Character studies and traditional (japanese) morals are the predominant issues here. Under the direction of Miike and with the skill of his polished cast, this one is indeed worth watching. If you watch this without rice wine, you may likely shed a tear or two. If you watch it with some rice wine (as I recommend), prepare for meaningfulness. (heh)

On a side note: The island prison on which Eiji was confined was/is named Ishikawa Jima and was utilized, in part, as a prison throughout the Edo (1603-1867) and Meiji (1868-1912) Eras. The island sits offshore from Edo, modern-day Tokyo. In 1853, Nariakira Tokugawa, the feudal lord, converted the island into a Tokyo shipyard. (You may recall that it is during this Meiji Era that the exposure to Western shipping vessels irrevocably changed Japan's cultural landscape.) Soon thereafter, in 1897, Sumitomo Corp. began its shipbuilding division on the island at Uraga Dockyard by the approval of Takeaki Enomoto, the Shogunate Warship Magistrate. To this day, Ishikawa Island remains a central location for Japan's shipbuilding industry.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
This very recent film effectively portrays traditional Japanese sensibilities (ideals) regarding friendship and loyalty in the face of traumatic difficulty. Plenty of fist fights and similar forays. But nothing beyond what should be acceptable for family viewing . No explicit or implicit sexuality Despite director Miike Takashi's name attached to this film, this is purely a (skillfully rendered) tale of traditional japanese morality. (and I thoroughly enjoyed it!)


Most people would go for Ichi the Killer , or even Visitor Q , but I have cehosn his most virtually unknown film called The Happiness of the Katakuris , which is very weird, and so disturbing. Most of his movies are like that, but they draw you in unlike most variety' films.

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