The Fable


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

The Fable
"The film builds neatly, slowly to a serious turning point just past the half way mark. After're on your own!" | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

If you like glossy assassin porn with plot and a sense of humour, then The Fable is about as good as it gets. Centre stage is super assassin and 'urban legend' the Fable (Jun'ichi Okada), who's been training for this job since he was a child. Which means – we gradually realise – that he has next to zero understanding of how the other (non-assassin) half lives.

After a period during which he has been especially busy, his boss/minder/trainer (it's never entirely clear) orders him and his assistant/driver/PA Yoko (Fumino Kimura) to take a sabbatical: a year off in Osaka during which he is to take on the alias of Sato and learn how to be an ordinary person. Off he sets, with, courtesy of his boss, two gifts: a pet parakeet and a warning that if he kills anyone while in Osaka, it's curtains for him.

Copy picture

So far, so logical. Well, apart from the parrot, whose role in subsequent developments we never do quite get to the bottom of.

But perhaps entrusting arrangements for his 'ordinary life' to the hands of local crime boss Ebihara (Ken Yasuda) is not the smartest move if you want your protegé to learn to be more ordinary. Espesh when Ebihara's brother/local psychopath Kojima (Yuya Yagira) is just out of prison and spoiling for a fight.

Kojima wants to move into the pimping racket and despite warnings from big bro Ebi to stay out of it, he quickly sets his sights on recruiting girl next door Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto) by turning up the heat on her and her family.

Further complications ensue as contract killer Fudo (Sota Fukushi) and his partner, the Bill and Ted – or perhaps the Dumb and Dumberer - of the killing world, also wash up in Osaka and join forces with Kojima's enemies. Does the Fable truly exist, asks one, early on: who knows? After all, he is an urban legend! But, if you kill an urban legend, then you, in your turn, get to be urban legend!

Meanwhile, Yoko has taken to ordinary life like a fish to tequila shots. Hanging out in a local bar for the umpteenth night in a row she complains “I'm bored. Where's a cute shallow man I can play with?”

This, the first half of the film, neatly sets up the rest. Can Sato help Misaki? Of course! Will he, since Ebihara has already warned him to stay way from ordinary people like her? Hmmmm. Dramatic dilemma!

And when things turn homicidal, how can he save the day, keep his promise to kill no-one and not get himself killed – or ostracised – in the process? And what will Misaki think when she finds out? Or will she?

The film builds neatly, slowly to a serious turning point just past the half way mark. After're on your own! It is rich in humour, action, drama and much besides. There is subtle comedy in the fact that the Fable's upbringing leaves him ill-adjusted to civilised society: jumping out of his skin when presented with hot food, inordinately amused by a second-rate TV comedian and advertiser.

But the comedy is also springboard for flashback to the why and how of this odd behaviour and that, in turn, provides tender back story, explaining and developing the relationship he has with his own boss.

As assassin movie you could easily transpose this wholesale into a western ethic, swapping in Jean Reno or Liam Neeson for the lead role, were it not for certain stylistic aspects of the on-screen drama. Much reliance on Japanese ideals of respect and apologising for slights to those toward whom one is under obligation.

The Fable is almost Arthurian in conception, bound by an honour code, supporting and protecting his love while doing his all to keep his identity secret. So not quite so Western in outlook.

Despite having its roots in The Fable manga by Katsuhisa Minami, who also worked on the scripting alongside screenwriter Watanabe Yusuke, the film nonetheless avoids a trap to which similar works succumb, of becoming episodic, without unifying theme. Yes, it is manga based. But if you were not aware of that, it is not obvious – at least not from the structure.

It comes with strong supporting soundtrack, including Born This Way by Lady Gaga, which frames and enhances the action at key points within the narrative.

A strong second outing for director Kan Eguchi, who deservedly took home an award – for best Asian film - from the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, it recently screened at the Fantasia international Film Festival in Montreal.

And it ends well, with characters, tropes and themes neatly established and more than enough headroom for a follow-up, should Eguchi so decide.

Reviewed on: 01 Aug 2019
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A darkly comic portrait of an assassin who works for the yakuza.

Director: Kan Eguchi

Writer: Watanabe Yusuke, based on the manga by Katsuhisa Minami

Starring: Jun'ichi Okada, Sôta Fukushi, Yûya Yagira, Osamu Mukai, Fumino Kimura

Year: 2019

Runtime: 123 minutes

Country: Japan


Fantasia 2019

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