Issue #215           HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES                 June 7th, 2004

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(2002; Nagoya TV/Dentsu/Sedic International)

Sabu and Eiji as children Tatsuya Fujiwara Satoshi Tsumabuki

RATING: 7/10


A study in contrasts and the best of friends since childhood, brooding, petulant Eiji (BATTLE ROYALE I & II's Tatsuya Fujiwara) and timid, self-conscious Sabu (Satoshi Tsumabuki) become separated when the former disappears one day. Sabu is informed merely that Eiji has been fired from his job but there is much more to the incident. Falsely accused of stealing a valuable cloth, Eiji is beaten and sentenced to a work camp on Ishikawa Island. Consumed by anger and prone to violent outbursts, the youth refuses to even reveal his name and the guards quickly brand Eiji as a troublemaker in need of a lesson in discipline. A concerned Sabu finally learns of his missing friend's whereabouts and journeys to the island but Eiji refuses to acknowledge him. Although his employer warns Sabu to forget about Eiji, he continues to make secret treks to the camp. Eiji’s stubbornness continues but, gradually, he adapts to his surroundings and benefits from his experiences there. Now a more even-tempered and mature man, Eiji still makes no secret of the fact that he intends to kill whomever framed him once he is allowed to return home.

Kenji Sawada (left), Tatsuya Fujiwara Kazue Fukiishi Tomoko Tabata

Takashi Miike has developed such a reputation for unbridled excess, it is tempting to preface any review of his more moderate work with an exclamation of surprise. Of course, those who have studied this prolific director's output know that he is quite capable of crafting character-driven drama and this measured, low-key effort (Miike's second Jidaigeki and produced by the Nagoya network as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations) fits nicely into that category. Adapted from the like-named novel by Shugoro Yamamoto, the film unfolds in the Tokugawa Era but offers no swordplay and no real action to speak of. Instead, its focus is on the common people of the time (Eiji and Sabu both come from impoverished backgrounds), which will be a refreshing change of pace for those Western viewers who have wondered about the lives of the peasant class folk often consigned to the background in chambara cinema. Fujiwara's teen idol looks sometimes detract from one's ability to take him seriously as an actor (never more so than in BATTLE ROYALE II, where his laughably unconvincing turn as a revered and feared rebel leader does major damage to the movie) but he manages to be persuasive and Tsumabuki is able to retain audience sympathy for a character whose ineffectuality in seemingly all aspects of life could easily become grating. Despite being produced for television on a short schedule, SABU never looks rushed or cheap (Miike's long history of making the most of small budgets is one of the keys to his success in the Japanese film industry), providing a credible backdrop for a gentle and involving rites-of-passage allegory. Unlike most pictures of this sort, there are no overt messages here, just an insightful contemplation of guilt, loyalty, and how two very different young men mature and confront the challenges of life. Kenji Sawada (very good as a member of the prison staff who recognizes Eiji's worth and helps to cultivate his humanity) and Miike regular Ren Osugi are among the other performers featured.


SABU receives a good anamorphic presentation here. The image is a little soft and only occasionally striking but this appears to be conceptual and the transfer conveys the intended details well (hues are warm and appealing). Similarly, the stereo mix is reserved but effectual. The subtitles have some minor typos and timing errors but there is no obvious paraphrasing. A generous collection of extras are on hand, presented with optional English subs where needed. A "Making of" doc (21 minutes) includes a look at the pre-production "purification ceremony" plus ample behind-the-scenes footage (it's amazing watching the director and actors making this period film in such close proximity to traffic, modern architecture, and flocks of schoolgirls hanging around trying to get a glimpse of the two leads). The interview section features two talks with Miike (totalling about 10 minutes) covering subjects like the origins of this project and the difficulty in producing films for mature audiences, given the teen-driven market (sound familiar?). Tsumabuki and Fujiwara are also interviewed briefly, along with female leads Kazue Fukiishi (as Eiji and Sabu's childhood friend, who now means much more to both of them) and Tomoko Tabata, though these bits are mostly just throwaway Electronic Press Kit items. The Japanese TV and movie trailers, a section devoted to promotional material (in a welcome touch, Artsmagic offers optional translation of the credits and taglines on posters, in addition to the various articles), and bios/filmographies for Miike and five of the performers round out the DVD.

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Images in this review courtesy of Artsmagic. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC -- Region 0
  • Artsmagic #ATU 002
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Sync Sound Japanese Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (1.78:1)
  • 122 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Great Britain: 12
  • Contains mild violence


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful