New York Asian Film Festival ‣ ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋
The 20th Anniversary New York Asian Film Festival takes place August 6–22 with both virtual and in-person screenings. Go to nyaff.org for more details.
When the original Fable (which quickly became recognized as one of the major highlights of that year’s slate) premiered at the 2019 NYAFF, it was with the knowledge that a sequel was already in the works. Now, a scant two years later yet in an entirely different world, Kan Eguchi’s highly anticipated follow-up has made its debut.
Does it live up to the high bar set by the original?
For those unfamiliar with the premise, The Fable is not so much a genre as the nickname of an infamous assassin (the exquisitely deadpan Junichi Okada) who can take down any opponent in six seconds or less. No one knows his true identity, save the audience, who recognizes him as Sato, a genuine weirdo who shows almost no emotion, is very sensitive to hot foods and shows marginally more affection for his pet parrot than any of the humans in his life.
The first film detailed his exile to Osaka with strict orders not to kill anyone, on penalty of death. He gets a job as an artist for a greeting card company and tries to stay out of trouble, which the movie does an excellent job of throwing at him.
The sequel picks up with Sato living the undercover life with his neophyte fellow assassin Yoko (Fumino Kimura), who is posing as his sister. Sato has taken an interest in Hinako (Yurina Hirate), a young woman in a wheelchair that is connected to his killer past. Which inadvertently brings him into conflict with Hinako’s patron Utsubo (Shinichi Tsutsumi), a crime boss posing as a altruistic nonprofit manager.
There are three demerits that must be addressed right away: the first is that this movie has zero interest in bringing new viewers up to speed. Though eventually you get drips and drabs of the premise, the movie just assumes you watched the first one and are familiar with all of the characters and their situation. Granted, it’s nothing too confusing; a new viewer won’t be completely lost or anything. But the gamble that familiarity will make the lesser presence of some of the favorite characters from the original play like doesn’t always pay off.
Which brings us to the second demerit: this is a much more serious movie than the first one. Make no mistake, it’s often still very funny when it wants to be. But there’s definitely less focus on the comedy that made the first film so enjoyable between action scenes. There is, perhaps, a bit too much focus on the villains and not enough on our lovable heroes.
But our final problem might just be a deal breaker for some: there’s a distinct lack of action here compared to the first one, or at least that’s the way it feels. There is a frankly astounding runaway car stuntfest that opens up the film, and gets the blood pumping for whatever comes next.
And what comes next is an hour of plot, as fate (or, as some might have it, writerly contrivance) links Sato, Hisako, and Utsubo in an inexorable showdown where secrets are revealed and Sato’s “No Kill” policy is constantly tested.
But truth be told, these are fairly minor complaints in the scheme of things. For all the ways it pales in comparison to the first film, it’s still a highly entertaining film. The sheer dynamism of that opening action sequence buys a lot of credit in terms of waiting to see what comes next. And the action beats, when they do hit, generally tend to justify the wait. The apartment complex shootout, where Sato walks right into an ambush and has to play cat and mouse with roughly a thousand armed gunmen he’s not allowed to kill is one of those sequences that starts at 11 and finds ways to keep topping itself. And if that means the actual showdown with Utsuba and his henchman Suzuki (Masanobu Ando, thankfully given more to do than the typical second banana) doesn’t quite match up in comparison, it’s only because the bar got set a little too high.
In the end, The next Fable isn’t quite as much fun as the original… but then, there aren’t that many movies period that are quite as much fun as the original. It still more than gets the job done in terms of entertainment. And who knows? Maybe the third time they’ll get it just right.