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Non-Stop (Dangan ranna, 1996)

Tanaka Hiroyuki

Japan

82 min, color, Japanese (English subtitles)

Review © 2001 Branislav L. Slantchev

A fast-paced satire with substantive implications that are literally blown away by the ending, NON-STOP is a very entertaining look at a quest for identity by three failures. Set entirely around a chase sequence, the film's narrative structure consists of flashbacks that tell of each character's background and what has led them to their extreme circumstances at the moment. The freshman effort by director Sabu (as he is usually credited), the film is original in style, execution, and content. The director's insistence of jumping right amidst an ongoing action without the usual buildup is a very refreshing, if not innovative, device that keeps the tempo of what otherwise would have been an overly didactic story. The use of flashbacks and daydreams serves not only to tell of the circumstances that made the characters who they are, but also defines their ongoing transformation. The ingenious camera work, with "reality" shots, constantly on the move and seemingly done in real time, is yet polished and slick. All this adds up to one great package.

The story concerns three losers: Yasuda (Taguchi Tomoro), who can't seem to keep even the most menial job at a kitchen, and whose girlfriend is two-timing him with no compunction, the band frontman Aizawa (Yukai Daimond), who sings well, but has a drug addiction that lands him in hot water with local yakuza suppliers, and whose girlfriend leaves him after being frequently mistreated by him, and Takeda (Tsutsumi Shinichi) a macho bodyguard of an yakuza boss, who finds out that he is really a sniveling coward. Each tries to find a way out of his predicament and their inability to cope with their tormentors. Yasuda decides to rob a bank in order to impress his girl and his coworkers. In his inept attempt at armed robbery, he wounds Aizawa, who decides to take the opportunity and lash out at Yasuda as a substitute for the yakuza. As their chase develops, they literally run into Takeda, who decides to kill Aizawa, proving his manliness lost when he shrank from his bodyguard duties and then did not have the decency to kill himself. So the three run through the streets of downtown Tokyo all day, while the local police and the rival gang prepare for a showdown.

Eventually, the three exhausted runners slip into a dream within their chase, in which each hallucinates about "good times," thus coming to realize the liberating experience of the chase. In effect, running, getting tired to the verge of collapse, and under threat of death, they are able to step outside their lives and the roles they are trying to enact, thus freeing themselves to be who they are. Having reached this point, the chase, whose original purpose has now lost all its meaning, becomes just an exhilarating run with a forged common bound. Running shoulder to shoulder, and laughing, the three (again quite literally) run into the rival yakuza gang and precipitate the tumultuous finale of the film. Without giving away too much of the ending, I have to say that it really made no sense and made the film fall flat because it appears that the characters learned did not in fact change them and, failing to transform in order to survive, they cannot really return to their dreary old lives.

Even this criticism is a minor quibble for the film is very well done, and is quite entertaining. Although it is not a straightforward comedy, it has its moments of jokes and pure fun, like grabbing drinks on the run, like real marathon runners, or when the three see the pretty girl in the street and then have very similar fantasies. There are also quite a few stabs at the "manliness" of the yakuza, and their code of behavior, depicted in very exaggerated fashion, with the end result of satirizing their world. I will certainly be on the lookout for more films by Sabu and I hope they are at least as good as NONSTOP

September 15, 2001.