In 2019, Kan Eguchi brought Katsuhisa Minami’s award-winning manga ‘The Fable’, to the silver screen. While The Fable (2019) failed to become one of the ten most grossing films in Japan that year, the film’s financial success and its satisfying international reputation was sufficient for Shochiku to greenlight a sequel. Can Kan Eguchi please audiences once more with the action-rich adventures of the beloved hitman who does not kill?
After saving his beloved co-worker Misaki (Misaki Shimizu) out of the claws of the Yakuza, Akira Sato (Junichi Okada), also known as Fable, returns to his peaceful life with his ‘sister’ Yoko Sato(Fumino Kimura). He fills his days with watching his favourite comedian Jackal Tomioka (Daisuke Miyagawa) on tv and with his part-time work at design company Octopus.
Meanwhile,Utsubo (Shinichi Tsutsumi), the sole survivor of Fable’s past executions, has built a successful career as the president of a NPO concerned with the safety of children. Yet, he has not renounced his criminal ways. Unbeknownst to the public, heworks with contract killer Suzuki (Masanobu Ando) to extort people and murder others.
Then, one day, Akira Sato meets a girl in a wheelchair in the park, reminding him of a girl, Hinako Saba (Yurina Hirate), who he rescued after murdering her pimp four years ago. Not much later, Misaki is approached by Utsubo and his new co-worker Isaki (Jun Kurose), concerning possible hidden cameras in her apartment.
The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill delivers a new chapter in the exploits of the hitman that does not kill. Yet, this film does not follow what one could call the Hollywood desire to make everything bigger, more bombastic, and, in some cases, more bloated. Eguchi’s sequel is, in truth, simpler, more straightforward, and more intimate.
This time around, the narrative is all about a man called Utsubo (Acting-note 1). Utsubo is marked by a dynamic of two different faces, an agreeable societal face and more hidden criminal face. For the community, he is not only someone who fights for a safer environment for children – be it in parks or on the internet, but also someone who knows sign language to communicate with those who cannot speak. He is a man that the community looks up to, a man that the community deeply trusts.
The spectator is quickly led to question which face of Utsubo is his true face? Is his concern with the community just an act, a mere cover for his illegal work or for a grudge yet unknown? What makes Eguchi’s narrative so pleasant is the fact that the answers to these questions are kept, at least for a certain time, in suspense. Whether his concern for the community and the safety for children is merely an act or not depends on the nature of his relationship with Hinako Saba, whose legs are paralyzed, and his past with Fable. As the nature of this relationship – either he exploits her or he genuinely cares for her – remains indeterminate and his past dealing with Sato remain vague, the spectator is refused, for the larger part of the narrative, a definite insight in Utsubo’s true subjectivity and his motives. This play with information keeps the spectator’s interest in Fable’s future enemy high.
The lightheartedness, like in the previous film, is function of Fable being subtly out of place within his social environment and the fact that he remains blind to his own incompatibility with the ‘normal’ world he now resides in. This is not only highlighted by his unique way of laughing, his stern seriousness, and his inability to drink or eat warm food, but also underlined by the way his reflexes as assassin keep him blind for Misaki’s subtle romantic advances and render him unable to ‘appropriately’ enter the field of romancing.
The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill is full of tension. Of course, the action-sequences provide the necessary tension and excitement, but – and this heightens the pleasure of this experience tremendously – various non-action moments, like simple conversations or silent situations that can suddenly turn violent, also deliver a subtle by pleasing tension. Most of these moments are directly or indirectly function of the double-faced position of Utsubo and of the fact that a vile evilness echoes within each of his acts of kindness. His friendly actions are, in other words, always ambiguous – his smile signals both his welcoming friendliness and his criminal hunger to exploit others. As a matter of fact, the concatenation of these moments of subtle tension are important in raising the stakes and keep the spectator engaged in the narrative.
The spectator’s visual enjoyment of Eguchi’s The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill is function of the subtle dynamism that marks the framing of the non-action sequences and the energy of the action-scenes compositions. The visual pleasure of the quieter moments lies in the subtle use of camera-movement as well as in the subtle artfulness of some of the static shot compositions, while the enjoyment of the action-sequences is ensured by Eguchi’s use of wide range of cinematographic techniques to evoke a palpating presence of tension and ever-looming danger of death and injury (Cine-note 1). While the well-choreographed action-sequences do not offer anything radically new, the refined nature of these exciting compositions delivers the necessary thrills and will put the spectator on the edge of his seat.
The musical accompaniment also plays an instrumental role in heightening the excitement of the wilder action-sequences. The music does not only realize this due to its rhythmicality but also via its dynamic flow, by the way it transforms in accordance with the unfolding of the action. In other instance, the flow of the music is played with to make certain moments comically stronger.
With The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill, Kan Eguchi delivers a more intimate and, at the level of violence and action, a more subdued narrative. While some spectators might be disappointed with less finger-licking violence, the pleasing characterization of Fable’s main opponent and the moving resolution of the narrative more than makes up for it. The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill is, in short, a satisfying sequel and any fans of Fable’s first outing should not pass this up.
Acting-note 1: The stand-out performance is Shinichi Tsutsumi’s. By playing the role of Utsubo perfectly, he does not only succeed in engaging the spectator, but also allows the narrative to become so satisfying.
Cine-note 1: Among the techniques used to frame the action-sequences are fast and snappy camera movement, subtle shaky movement, and the use of slow-motion.