A hitman just can’t catch a break in Kan Eguchi’s action-comedy adaptation.
“Living an ordinary life isn’t easy, you know.”
Fable (Junichi Okada) is your run-of-the-mill master hitman. Having been trained at birth by a figure known only as the Boss (Koichi Sato), he is the ultimate killing machine and named for his almost legendary status amongst gangsters. After one particularly violent job, the boss instructs Fable and his partner Yoko (Fumino Kimura) to lay low for a year, living a normal life under assumed names. He tasks his friend and local crime lord Ebihara (Ken Yasuda), to look after them during this time. Things start to go awry when one of Ebihara’s underlings, Kojima (Yuya Yagira), is released from prison and wants nothing more than to start some shit.
As it was based on the manga by Katsuhisa Minami and having not read it, I’ll only be able to judge The Fable on what I saw on screen. Notably, this adaptation was written for the screen by Yusuke Watanabe, who penned both my favourite and least favourite Japanese-language manga adaptations – Twentieth Century Boys and Attack on Titan respectively, and so it was hard to gauge in which direction this one would swing.
And to that end, it seems to land directly in between them. The Fable is a film that seems a bit lost in whether it wants to be taken seriously or not. This ends up being reflected in quite a lot of its scenes, with actors never quite sure whether they should play the action straight or as loudly as possible. As a result, a lot of The Fable feels choppy and not quite well put together. It opens with a pretty slick and visually interesting fight that promises something stylish and cool, but before long you’re just watching more of the same dumb shit that filmmakers still haven’t realised doesn’t look good coming from live action actors.
To their credit, the cast gives it their all, notably Okada who has to constantly flip-flop between hardened killer, pretending to be an incompetent coward and bursting out into manic laughter whenever his favourite comedian shows up on TV. It’s a strange combo that never really works, but Okada really tries his hardest to. The Fable is a film that has Fable tap his head repeatedly in order to switch off his killing side, and never leans hard enough into the absurdity to make it work.
Despite its 123-minute length it’s hard for me to really parse what actually the point of the movie was. I think it was made to service a sequel as everything feels like set-up to a story that ends up not existing. And to that end, The Fable does get better as it goes. Once it accepts what it is instead of what it wants to be, things start to move a lot smoother. It spends so much time introducing the audience to the concept of the killer who doesn’t kill that it ends up not really doing much with that. Now that all the character relationships have been established and the early-movie awkwardness is over with, I think the sequel can only really build on what’s been established here. Who knows, maybe we’ll even get to see how his graphic design career advances.
Verdict: Distinctly unmemorable, The Fable nevertheless feels like it’s building towards something better. It just takes way too long to get anywhere.
Overall entertainment: 5.5/10
Violence: 6/10, almost all of it at the very beginning
Tequila: 10, no, 20 shots!
Minimum wage: It has to be more than 800 yen an hour, surely
Jackal Tomioka: I’d watch that
Theme song: Born this Way seems like a strange choice considering it’s about a guy who was trained to be a killer and can switch it off on a whim.
The Fable (2019)
Also known as: ザ・ファブル
Director: Kan Eguchi
Writers: Katsuhisa Minami (manga), Yusuke Watanabe
Junichi Okada – Fable
Fumino Kimura – Yoko
Koichi Sato – Boss
Mizuki Yamamoto – Misaki
Ryo Kimura – Kudo
Kai Inowaki – Kuro
Jiro Sato – Takoda
Ken Yasuda – Ebihara
Yuya Yagira – Kojima
Osamu Mukai – Sunagawa
Sota Fukushi – Fudo
Daisuke Miyagawa – Jackal Tomioka
Shingo Fujimori – Yuki Kawai
Ken Mitsuishi – Hamada
Masao Yoshii – Etsuji Kainuma