I have to admit, Sabu is one of my favorite directors, one of the main reasons I turned my attention towards contemporary Japanese cinema, and that films like “Postman Blues”, “Monday”, “Usagi Drop” , “Miss Zombie”, etc are among my all time favorites. Therefore, I was really happy to find out that Third Window has picked his debut, “Dangan Runner” to be released on digital media. Let us take things from the beginning though.
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The story (which shares similarities with the 1998 film “Run Lola Run”) revolves around three individuals that could be characterized easily as losers. Yasuda is a man who is constantly bullied in the restaurant he works for, with his frustration eventually leading to a rather extreme decision, of robbing a bank. Alas, Yasuda forgets his mask during his first heist, and ends up in a convenience store, where he tries to steal one. Alas once more, Aizawa, the clerk there, and a failed rock star and a junkie, takes wind of his clumsy effort, in a series of events that lead to the latter being shot and chasing Yasuda through the streets. While the two run, they stumble upon Takeda, a low-level yakuza, whom Aizawa owes money. This chance meeting results in a three-man hunt through the streets of Tokyo that continues through the night, while their stories appear on screen through flashbacks.
Sabu directs a unique movie, that somehow manages to combine elements of cult, art-house, the distinct, quirky Japanese sense of humor, and the Yakuza film, in an amalgam that, despite its simple main premise (three men running) manages to retain the interest for the whole of its 82 minutes. In that fashion, the story of the three “losers”, the surrealistic way three radically different lives connect, the flashbacks that reveal their story, and the fact that they keep on running for a very long time, form the rather entertaining narrative, which benefits the most from the differences of the three characters. Yasuda is the archetype of the pushover, a man who everyone around him seems to take advantage or make fun of. Aizawa is a failed rocker whose addiction has led him to alienate his girlfriend. Takeda is a Yakuza whose actions (or non-actions one could say) has led him into much trouble with his organization, and have even instigated a yakuza war.
Through their differences, however, Sabu seems to highlight the similarities of men (the scene where the three pass by a very beautiful woman is a distinct sample), which is synopsized through a phrase uttered in the film: “We all run towards something”, although in this case, “from something” could also work.
The best asset of the film, however, is definitely its rhythm, as it presented through Shinji Tanaka’s frantic editing, with the almost constant changing of scenes, timelines and settings, and Daisuke Okamoto and Diamond Yukai’s (who also plays Aizawa) fast music, which suits the pace of the movie to perfection. The aforementioned aspects are the ones that elevate the constant running that dominates the narrative to full entertainment, as the film functions frequently as a very intense music video.
The three protagonists, Tomoro Taguchi as Yasuda, Diamond Yukai and Shinichi Tsutsumi as Takeda have adapted fully to the aforementioned aesthetics, managing to portray their characters through constant running, while their actual personas, as depicted through the flashbacks, are presented quite convincingly. The one that stands out, though, seems to be the latter, with his performance as the Yakuza with the big blunder being one of the highlights of the movie, and the main medium Sabu uses to mock the image of the Yakuza, and probably the reason Tsutsumi became a regular for Sabu.
“Dangan Runner” was a great debut for Sabu, a great sample of contemporary Japanese indie, and a very entertaining movie that will keep the interest of its audience picked for the whole of its duration.