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Fable, The
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by Jay Seaver

"An enjoyable riff on the quirky professional killer."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I suspect that in real life, hitmen are seldom eccentric or preternaturally skilled or possessed of any sort of code; they're just boringly anonymous people who are okay with murdering people for money and haven't gotten caught yet. Those guys don't make for particularly entertaining movies, of course; you want the weirdos, hired by and targeting flamboyant gangsters. They are, at least in this movie, a lot more fun.

Take "The Fable" (Jun'ichi Okada), introduced putting bullets through the heads of a whole lot of yakuza while being fed information by a partner (Fumino Kimura) who has the good looks, charm, and capacity to drink any man under the table to extract a lot of intel from some poor schmuck at a bar. After this sort of carnage, it's time to lie low, so they are given the identities of siblings Akira and Yoko Sato and packed off to Osaka, where underboss Ebihara (Ken Yasuda) is responsible for putting them up. They're told no killing, but "Akira" isn't really good at much else. Plus, one of those old-school guys who don't like how corporate gangs have gotten (Yuya Yagira) just got out on parole and is looking to start trouble, and a couple of guys looking to make a name for themselves have a lead on where The Fable has gone after his last massacre. And the there Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto), a sweet girl whose path keeps crossing Akira's, and whose harassers could really benefit from a few bullets to the head.

This whole movie rests upon Jun'ichi Okada's comic performance, with screenwriter Watanabe Yusuke and director Kan Eguchi canny in how they initially deploy it, starting off with a nifty action scene and then revealing that the apparent stoic cool that the assassin shows is more about being socially stunted rather than above the petty concerns of normal people. What makes it funny is that he's not just stupid or numb - there is a personality there, and it explains why he can be cool under pressure but incapable of dealing with people, although he laughs uproariously at what is, even for Japan, an incredibly basic vaudvillian and reacts in comic agony when even the most slightly warned soup panicks his heightened senses. Okada's deadpan ability to pivot or lurch between those facets is roughly five times as funny as it seems like it should be for what he appears to be doing.

On top of that, he fits very nicely indeed into the action that Eguchi and fight choreographer Alain Figlarz come up with. Eguchi has an eye on how classic yakuza fight scenes look and heightens them, throwing in graphics showing Akira mentally calculating all sorts of bullet trajectories to highlight just how comically impossible this sort of thing is, but also letting the camerawork frame things in such a way that they're exciting rather than just obviously foregone conclusions. Okada's got a way of moving through those scenes that's smooth but lets one see the odd man underneath, compared to Yuya Yagira's more manic yakuza.

The film adapts a manga by Katsuhisa Minami and the story he extracts is a nifty crime comedy, playing on the parts of gangster movies that the audience knows by heart but making sure they're just exaggerated enough to be cockeyed, adding new characters and letting the threads play out and brush one another but not fully come together until the finale. There's a fun cast playing it out, with Fumino Kimura's manic Yoko a fun contrast with the taciturn Akira and Ken Yasuda doing a Charles Grodin-quality slow burn and the various wannabes on the trail of the Fable. It's never quite too much, and Mizuki Yamamoto is just steadying enough as the nice girl who catches Akira's eye - far from saccharine, but thoroughly pleasant.

Still, there's a thread or two that doesn't quite have the weight it should, especially when it starts to become a point that Akira's handler has him parked in Osaka for a purpose, going back to his origins. It's meant to be a little more serious and weighty than what's going on around it, but the flashbacks never quite seem to be enough. The relationship never quite comes off as either twisted or bizarrely functional enough to be what the ultimate direction of Akira's character rests on, and as likable as Misaki is, there's nothing grand about their courtship either.

That's easy to overlook, though, a stab at a little more sentiment than this movie really needs but also a way to let the title character retain what's funny about him until close to the very end. And that does let "The Fable" have an odd, super-capable-but-super-strange hitman all the way through. We wouldn't buy the real thing, but this is a fun fantasy version of it.

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originally posted: 12/18/19 14:55:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Kan Eguchi

Written by
  YŻsuke Watanabe

  Junichi Okada
  Fumino Kimura
  Mizuki Yamamoto
  Koichi Sato
  YŻya Yagira

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