Dir: Sabu. Japan. 100 mins.
Prod cos: CineQuaNon, Cinerocket, Media Factory. Int'l sales: Fortissimo Film Sales (+31 20 627 3215). Prods: Nobuaki Muro'oka, Yoshimi Ishihara, Reiko Arakawa, Takahito Kashino. Scr: Sabu. DoP: Kazuhito Sato. Music: Kei'ichiro Shibuya. Cast: Shin'ichi Tsutsumi, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Ren Osugi, Masanobu Ando.
The first three films of Japanese actor-turned-director Sabu (aka Hiroyuki Tanaka) were unforgettable for at least one reason: chase sequences that accelerated with a mad inventiveness, energy and humour reminiscent of Buster Keaton, though filmed with more 1990's attitude than 1920's slapstick.
In his fourth film, Monday, Sabu finally gives the chase a rest, while retaining his distinctive themes and style. More importantly, this tale of a businessman's disastrous weekend is all-fours-in-the-air funny, but with a control and cleverness closer to Trainspotting than The General. With adroit handling Monday could become the next Japanese film to enjoy success at the international box office.
Sabu regular Shin'ichi Tsutsumi stars as Takagi, a businessman who wakes up one Monday in a hotel bedroom with no memory of how he got there. Then he remembers, to his horror, being at the wake of a colleague - and being responsible for the dreadfully funny way it ended. Enough to say that, by clipping the wrong wire, Takagi gave his former co-worker a send-off unique in the history of film, if not fireworks.
The rest of the film segues between the past and the present, as Takagi recovers more pieces of his lost weekend. As his past actions, from the brainless to the deadly, begin to impinge on his increasingly desperate present, the film moves toward its explosive, if absurd, finale.
Among his more memorable post-wake encounters is one with a gangster girl (Yasuko Matsuyuki), whose smoky looks make him steam at the ears, and with her snarling gang boss boyfriend (Toru Yamamoto), whom Takagi ends up wrestling for a shotgun - with risibly dire results.
Sabu has used similar comic elements before, but in Monday they click into place with a new precision and effectiveness. An inspired, flawlessly timed performance by Tsutsumi as the businessman is a major reason the laugh meter keeps flicking forward. The ways of Japanese corporate society and its underworld shadow may still be mysterious to the West, but idiocy, as Tsutsumi shows us so hilariously, is universal.