Tonight, Japan Society kicks off a retrospective of the independent action-comedy films of Hiroyuki “Sabu” Tanaka—he’ll be on hand for the first week of screenings, beginning with Opening Night’s Monday, a yakuza-menaced post-hangover recovered-memory piece, and continuing through Friday night’s screening of his debut, Non-Stop.
With Non-Stop, from 1996, Sabu tears open the bag of clever, self-aware tricks a certain video store clerk had just brought to the party: like Tarantino, and his imitators from the glamorous Doug Liman of Go to the macho Guy Ritchie of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Sabu orchestrates a convergence of backstories—the movie’s an interlocking contraption, cutting back and forth across place and time to show how all these motley, stylish, self-parodic crew of movie types’ parallel tracks all take blind turns into the same black-comic showdown.
Here, an amateur bank robber, a junkie convenience-store clerk (played by the Japanese rock star Diamond Yukai) and a low-level yakuza—in a shiny, roomy suit, with no tie—chases each other for a day a night across Tokyo, as seen through a handheld, street-level camera, very lo-fi urban panache. The running is a more symbolic hook than the usual genre-film set-up, but Sabu hangs the same sort of stuff on it: sudden flashbacks explain the intricate chains of overlapping cause-and-effect by which everyone ended up in the same place, and meanwhile crews of cops and opposing factions of robbers quote crime movies and debate gangster protocol, like movie junkies do, en route to an accidental Mexican standoff that we can see coming, marveling at the screenwriter’s cleverness and our own in equal measure.
The nonstop running, and the subjective New Wave-ish digressions (each of the runners has a different sexual fantasy about the same pedestrian, in quick succession) were an obvious influence on another kinetic, film-schooled grab-bag— but for maximum 90s VHS vibe, it’s recommended that you pregame by watching the trailer for 2 Days in the Valley. The rest of the films in the series seem to have a similar knack for Rube Goldberg premises and slickly indulged genre-flick tropes.