The Fable (2019)

Directed by
Slick action comedy with blockbuster potential
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-01-18

In the world of Tokyo hitmen The Fable is a legend, an assassin without equal. His reputation is starting to become a risk though, so his manager sends him off to Osaka to lay low for a year, with orders that he should try to live like an ordinary person and must not kill anyone.

"Ordinary" doesn't come easy to our hero though. Having been raised in the forest by a survivalist and being somewhere on the autistic spectrum he doesn't have a particularly clear idea of what ordinary people are like, but he does his best to fit in and receives assistance from a kind-hearted young woman he meets there.

His attempts to live an ordinary life are further complicated by a brewing conflict between the local Yakuza and a pair of ambitious young hitmen who feel that killing a legend would be a nice boost to their own profile.

THE FABLE seems to have come in a bit under the radar, at least I didn't hear anything about it until recently, which seems surprising given that it's a remarkably slick action comedy with plenty of crossover appeal and some of the best action scenes to grace a Japanese film. It apparently screened at the New York Asian Film Festival, but the lack of an official English language release beyond that is presumably the main obstacle to it being more widely recognised.

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The main star Junichi Okada is not a familiar face to me, but he was apparently a member of boy band V6 and has done plenty of films and TV work so he's by no means new to the business and gives his character about the right amount of dopey charm to make the film's comedic side work.

The marginally more familiar Yuya Yagira (DESTRUCTION BABIES) is his primary foil, a sadistic young Yakuza who revels in violence and destruction and leaves a trail of chaos in his wake, providing the film with its primary motive force. Ken Yasuda gives the most interesting performance in the film as a Yakuza boss with conflicting desires, introducing uncertainty into how things are going to play out.

Mizuki Yamamoto plays the requisite damsel in distress to induce tension with the hero's promise not to kill. She fills the role but could probably have given her character a bit more substance. Fumino Kimura plays the sidekick and gives the film some welcome charm and warmth.

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I've never heard of director Kan Eguchi before, but apparently he's been around for some years working in TV and advertising and has certainly learnt his craft well. THE FABLE is uncommonly slick and feels like a high budget production. The story is not complex but is deftly handled, weaving together its various strands and developing its characters smoothly and efficiently. The visuals are top tier, with some really crisp, sharp cinematography (the bold colours in the opening scene are especially striking).

It is the action that really makes the film stand out though. It's not "action-packed" as such, with two scenes that bookend the film constituting the majority of the action and a smattering of violence along the path from one to the other. The quality of the action easily shoots down any concerns about quantity though. The JOHN WICK influence is obvious, but that's not a criticism when it's pulled off well and that's certainly the case here.

The finale is an extended sequence of thrilling choreography as The Fable infiltrates a Yakuza stronghold in a disused industrial building and then has to fight his way out against dozens of henchmen and trained killers. The staging is inventive and technically sophisticated and the camera work and editing make the displays of skill convincing.

Apparently the director brought in a French choreographer with military experience to help stage the fights (, but credit must be given to the whole crew for the execution.

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There is apparently a sequel due out in Japan in a couple of weeks - if the trailer is anything to go by it looks like it ups the ante even further on the action. Here's hoping that Netflix or somebody takes note of the franchise and brings it to the wider audience it deserves.