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Miike is famous for pushing boundaries, one of his recent examples being Ichi The Killer which was slaughtered by the BBFC in what resulted in their most substantial series of cuts since 1994. What is less well known is that every now and again, this cult director takes a step in a totally different direction, showing how versatile he can be. TV movie, Sabu is one such step.

Sabu
Movie
Sabu is a traditional Japanese period drama set in the Tokugawa Era with two central characters: Eiji (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Sabu (Satoshi Tsumabuki). Sabu and Eiji have been best friends since they were kids; they ended up growing up and then working at the same place. That is, until Eiji just disappeared off the side of the planet. Sabu, who is obviously worried about the disappearance, asks around to see if anyone knows anything but only gets hostile responses.

It isn't until a letter is given to Sabu that he finds out what has happened to his best friend. Eiji was caught red handed with an expensive gold cloth in his possession; he was beaten up on orders of his employer and sentenced to spend time at Ishikawa Island prison camp. Eiji was obviously framed as Sabu knows how honest he is, so tries in vein to talk to him. Eiji is very bitter about the whole incident and as such refuses to talk to his friend. To make matters worse Sabu's employer tries to blackmail him by offering him his own franchise provided he no longer visits the prison camp.

This is a big departure from Takashi Miike's usual style of movie making. There's not one element of boundary pushing exploitation excess. It is a traditional Japanese story aimed at a younger generation. The fact that this UK release has been given a BBFC 12 certificate shows how unusual a Miike film it actually is. I have to say that I really liked the feel of this movie; it's very slow but at the same time the visuals and haunting soundtrack just make it worthwhile to watch. Just make sure you are the right sort of relaxed mindset before giving it a go – otherwise it'll likely be a frustrating or even boring viewing.

Video
This is a slightly unusual film in that it was commission for television, but the company that commissioned it (Nagoya TV) decided to shoot it on proper film stock as if it were filmed properly; as such it features a slightly soft but never the less good quality 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Colour balance is just about right and there weren't any obvious compression artefacts.

Sabu
Audio
Sabu is given an original Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track, there isn't a dubbed track, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. I would have liked to have been given the option of a 5.1 track for Sabu; even though the soundtrack is very subtle, it stuck in my mind. On a related note, the subtitles are reliable though there are a few mistakes, nowhere near as bad as you get with many Hong Kong DVDs, but never the less worth mentioning.

Extras
First of all there's plenty of information about each of the primary cast and crew involved in the movie. These filmography sections are rarely highlighted in reviews, but Artsmagic do a great job at filling these up with interesting facts. Miike's biography is twenty pages long for example.

The Making Of extra is quite possibly the best feature on this disc. It goes on for approximately twenty minutes and provided a daily account of the heavily condensed and strict filming schedule Sabu was given. My only complaint is that it mainly concentrates on Tatsuya Fujiwara, rarely following the other members of the cast. Even Miike is only shown a few times.

Sastoshi Tsumabuki and Tatsuya Fujiwara are interviewed together in a few minutes long production by Nagoya TV. Topics are a bit fluffy at best, and as with anything by Nagoya, the main thread of the interview is how good Tatsuya Fujiwara is.

There are two interviews with director Takashi Miike, one has the visual style of the television channel that commissioned the film, is very short and lacks substance. The other is in a similar style to the interview he did for the previous Artsmagic interview on Full Metal Yakuza. In it he mentions how the film only came about after the producer put so much effort into getting the project commissioned, and it was only when Nagoya TV decided they needed to do something special for their fortieth birthday that it was given the go-ahead. He also comments on the less than popular genre that it fits into, and the fact that it's a big change in style from Miike's usual extreme cinema.

Tomoko Tabata and Kazue Fukiishi – the two primary female actors – are interviewed again by Nagoya TV. They mention their characters and that's about it, the interviews last a total of just over one minute so it isn't surprising.

Artsmagic have provided the original Nagoya TV trailer for the movie. For a trailer it last for quite a long time (three and a half minutes) and provides western viewers like myself with an idea of what Japanese television is like. Looks like they have a very in-your-face style.

Other features include: poster artwork, promotional material, a far more subtle cinematic trailer and artwork for other titles in the Artsmagic Warrior range.

Sabu
Overall
If you are a Takashi Miike fan, and always looking for his latest step into wacky extreme cinema then this title will – to be totally honest – bore you to death! This is a Japanese period drama and is true to the genre with none of Miike's usual weirdness. It's a pretty good one at that and I was myself very impressed. Next to Audition this is now my favorite Takashi Miike movie. Sabu shows a different side to Miike's film making talents that I think he should continue with. Visually it is very pleasing and the soundtrack, although traditional in nature, compliments to film very well.

For more infomation on Sabu  (including a trailer), Artsmagic have produced the following sites:The DVD is due to hit the streets in the US on 29th June 2004. The UK edition reviewed here comes out on 26th June 2004.


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