Saturday, July 6, 2019

Nate Hood's 400 words on Sabu's Jam (2018) NYAFF 2019

For his eighteenth feature Jam, idiosyncratic Japanese auteur Sabu abandons the straightforward storytelling that’s dominated his career in favor of a film featuring three distinct storylines that weave and intersect purely by chance much like the early 2000s hyperlink features of Alejandro González Iñárritu. The first revolves around Hiroshi (Sho Aoyagi), a struggling enka singer with a devout fanbase of older women who dreams of global stardom. Following a meet-and-greet session with a group of his fans, he’s kidnapped by a mentally unstable woman named Masako (Mariko Tsutsui) who ties him to a chair and forces him to write a love song for her. Elsewhere there’s Tetsuo (Nobuyuki Suzuki), a silent ex-con fresh from prison hunting down the gangsters who abandoned him during a heist gone wrong. While not killing his way through the criminal underground, he dutifully cares for his senile grandmother, pushing her around in a wheelchair as he goes about his bloody business.

Both of these storylines unfortunately feel like pale imitations of other, better movies: it’s impossible to watch Hiroshi’s story without having flashbacks of Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990) and Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1982), while Tetsuo feels ripped straight out of Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy (2003) what with his imperviousness to pain, bedraggled appearance, and use of a hammer as his primary weapon.

It’s only the third and final storyline that feels truly original, and it’s here that we see the dark humor that’s characterized so much of Sabu’s career. It centers on a young man named Takeru (Keita Machida), a good-natured fellow with cosmically bad luck. After his girlfriend is accidentally shot and sent into a coma while a bystander to the heist where Tetsuo got arrested, he receives a vision from God telling him that if he does three good deeds a day she’ll wake up. However, his good deeds seem to backfire, such as almost getting lynched after getting mistaken for a pedophile while trying to help a crying little girl. In his eagerness to help others, he inadvertently becomes the getaway driver to a duo of robbers. Their next big score? An upcoming Hiroshi concert.

Jam is an occasionally charming genre exercise, but an ultimately hollow one, as it never demonstrates any underlying philosophy or ideas; there’s a recognition of fate and coincidence, but no conclusions about them. There isn’t even a point about pointlessness.

Rating: 6/10

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