Dangan Runner (1996)

Directed by
Absurdity becomes transcendence
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-03-11

Tomorowo Taguchi is tired of being treated like a loser so he decides to buy a gun and rob a bank. Before he can rob the bank he realises he should buy a mask though, and when he loses the gun in a tousle with the shopkeeper he runs away, with the shopkeeper chasing after him.

Technically that's the whole film, Tomorowo Taguchi runs, Diamond Yukai chases him and after a while Shinichi Tsutsumi starts chasing them both. As they run though, Sabu weaves a tale around them via flashbacks, cutaways and more, gradually revealing the story of how these characters got to where they are and how their lives are connected, like filling in a jigsaw.

The protagonists run until they are exhausted then they run some more, they run past the point where it makes any sense, until absurdity becomes transcendence. As they run their former lives fall behind them, the pettiness and triviality of their worries melting away as the act of putting one foot in front of another becomes the whole of their world, their very identity.

The film is very much "show don't tell", which works because of Sabu's assured direction and editing and his bond with his cast, economically telling a story through actions and images. It's a really novel way of telling a story, and it announced Sabu as one of the most interesting directors in Japan around this time. It established a template that he would essentially keep iterating on until he changed direction quite dramatically with Dead Run in 2005.

I still don't know why Sabu never achieved the same level of popularity in the West as contemporaries like Takashi Miike, his films are no less original or entertaining, though he perhaps never made anything that would fit into the "Extreme Asia" wave that Miike and others rode. I still hold out hope that his films will get their due one day.