The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill (2021) by Kan Eguchi

Following on directly from the first “Fable” film, we find the legendary hitman (Junichi Okada) living under his secret identity of Akira Sato in Osaka, alongside his associate posing as his sister (Fumino Kimura). He is still working at the design company alongside Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto) and Kainuma (Masao Yoshii). Sato’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of Utsubo (Shinichi Tsutsumi), a former target who is now running a non-profit organization for disadvantaged children as a front for his criminal activities. Four years ago Fable took down five members of his group, but was called off killing Utsubo himsel. Utsubo is out to avenge his brother’s death. Sato is also reunited with a young woman, Hinako (Yurina Hirate) who he saved from the gang, but whose spine was damaged in the rescue.

“The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill” is an enjoyable follow up to the first film, delivering the same mix of action and comedy. The first film had its problems with uneven tone and pacing, neither of which are fixed here. Essentially this sequel succeeds and fails in all the same ways as the previous film. The film recycles several weak gags, such as the Jackal Tomioka and hot food elements of Fable’s character, and again the odd blend of slapstick alongside genuinely gruesome killings and abuse is often hard to reconcile. The opening action sequence is incredible and there are some highly entertaining and inventive action moments, with use of extreme slow-motion to show Fable’s incredible reflexes. The film often seems at a loss when outside of these action moments, struggling to know exactly what to do with the characters, who are largely stereotypical action heroes or villains. The story of Hinako is a welcome addition, adding some much needed emotion and the way the characters backstories are intertwined is interesting. This time there is far more of a connection to Fable’s past and therefore it feels far more meaningful. Yoko is also given more to do in this film, showing her own martial prowess.

Fans of the first film will enjoy this and it delivers some fantastic fight scenes and action. It is hard to see why they wouldn’t simply go for a straight-up action film, retaining some of the better character-led comedy while removing the sillier elements. It’s a missed opportunity as taken individually there are some incredible scenes, but it often feels like two distinct films spliced together, one an ultra-violent and stylish underworld thriller and the other a wacky comedy. Overall, the film is an improvement on the first and certainly has elements to recommend it despite its flaws.

The Fable (2019) by Kan Eguchi

An elite hitman (Junichi Okada) is asked to lie low for a year with strict instructions not to kill anyone in this live-action manga adaptation from Kan Eguchi. Following a mission in which he takes out an entire group of rival gangsters, the man is given the new identity of Akira Sato, and along with his partner (Fumino Kimura), now renamed Yoko Sato, they  are relocated to Osaka. They are told they must lay low for a year and not kill anyone, or do anything to raise suspicions. While under the protection of another mob boss, Ebihara (Ken Yasuda), “Sato” soon finds himself drawn back into the world of gang violence and vendettas when Ebihara violent brother Kojima (Yuya Yagira) is released from prison and begins stirring up trouble. Sato is also targetted by two ganstgers who know him as the urban legend “Fable”, who believe that taking him out will assure their own legendary status. While attempting to remain inconspicuous, Sato begins work at a design agency, falling for his co-worker Misaki Shimizu (Mizuki Yamamoto).

Based on a popular manga series by Katsuhisa Minami, with a screenplay by Watanabe Yusuke, the story of a hitman who is ordered not to kill has a lot of potential, but unfortunately this film rarely makes the best of its premise. The opening sequence, featuring a fun, ultraviolent takedown of a group of gangsters by a balaclava clad gunman, is well-shot and ramps up the excitement. A subsequent fist-fight, in which Sato must pretend to take a beating while actually being completely in control, is one of the best examples of the blend of comedy and action the film is aiming for. However, a lot of the jokes fall flat. For every solid character-based comedy moment, such as this fight or the former killer’s attempts to reinvent himself as an artist, there are weak running gags, such as his aversion to hot food and his love of childish comedian Jackal Tomioka that make little sense and serve to undermine any potential threat or tension. It is a fine line to tread between comedy and action, and this film pushes both to extremes with sexual violence and brutal stabbings sitting uncomfortably alongside the slapstick humour. The action sequences are enjoyable, but slightly undermined by the sense that “Sato” will never be killed or even seriously injured. It is a cartoon world, with exagerrated stereotypes, that struggles to maintain tension or establish emotional connection to the characters.

“The Fable” is a comedy-action film that fails to fully satisfy as either. It is a shame as the action sequences where things fall into place give a glimmer of what could have been, but the tonal inconsistency sadly let it down. The cast do a reasonable job given the script, playing up the larger-than-life characters, but again they struggle to resonate on more than a superficial level, mostly conforming to stereotypes such as the undercover hero, the love interest, or the psychopathic villain. The film works as a slightly silly action story, with a few stand out scenes, and is never outright bad, but rather underwhelming.

The Eternal Zero (2013)

After attending their grandmother’s funeral, two young adults discover that she was remarried following the death of her first husband, the biological father of their mother. The two set out, with the blessing of their step-grandfather, to find out the truth about their grandfather Miyabe (Junichi Okada). He had been a pilot in the war, flying one of the famed Zero fighter planes. Many of his contemporaries from that time describe him as a coward who was quick to run from battle. However, his grandson Kentaro (Haruma Miura) perseveres with the investigation that soon reveals a very different story. Far from being weak, Miyabe was one of the top pilots, but his belief in the sanctity of life and determination to save others put him at odds with his fellow pilots.

“The Eternal Zero” is based on the book by Naoki Hyakuta and directed by Takashi Yamazaki from a screenplay by Yamazaki and Tamio Hayashi. The story flits back and forth between the ‘present’ of 2004 and the war years. It is a structure that allows for much needed breaks in the narrative of Miyabe’s wartime experiences as well as giving the filmmakers a way of showing the impact of his actions two generations later. The wartimes segments are enlivened by some great aerial sequences, with Zeros and American fighters being recreated through CGI, that capture the ferocity and deadliness of the fighting. We see some of the most pivotal battles of the war, Midway and Guadal Canal, recreated, though the characters are fictional. There are only a couple of brief glimpses of bloody or violent scenes, but it is enough for the audience to understand the seriousness of what is at stake. Junichi Okada plays Miyabe with a calm air that shifts alarmingly in a later scene when he comes to understand the true horror of war. There are some great supporting performances from Mao Inoue as his young wife, Hirofumi Arai as his fellow pilot Kageura, an aggressive, gung-ho counterpoint to Miyabe, and Min Tanaka who plays his sombre older self. Shota Sometani also stars as a likeable young recruit who is helped by Miyabe. The film is rather longer than it needs to be at over two hours, and the acting at times overly dramatic. It suffers most when it attempts to steer the audience to a conclusion rather than allowing the story to stand for itself, though for the most part it is an engaging and emotional tale.

“The Eternal Zero” looks back at the war from the Japanese perspective with a mature eye, acknowledging the rampant nationalism and idolatry that led many to their deaths, and admitting that mistakes were made. A number of the characters comment on the fact that their way of thinking has changed with the passage of time. Some may dismiss this as a sly attempt to avoid taking responsibility for some of the atrocities committed during wartime, a way of distancing those who were there from these very different times and circumstances. However, the men who fought were young at the time, and fed imperial propaganda that indoctrinated a sense of superiority, and a do or die mentality into its military. The film’s central message is one of the value of life, not to throw it away needlessly, but to preserve it as our greatest asset. In contrast to his fellow pilots, Miyabe believes each life he can save, including his own, will be more valuable than those lost in pursuit of victory. It is a belief that is vindicated by many in later life who praise him for his stance, one that was difficult at the time. This is a powerful and important message to try to do the right thing even when those around you are pressuring you to conform to their own ideals.