Written and directed by Sabu
With Tomoro Taguchi, Diamond Yukai and Shinichi Tsutsumi
Distributed by Shooting Gallery Films
Opens November 10th
The narrative of NON-STOP proceeds in fits and starts. Yasuda (Taguchi), a man despised by his co-workers and ignored by the woman he ineptly courts, decides to impress them by robbing a bank. However, he leaves the customary robber's mask at home and decides to stop by a convenience store to shoplift one. Caught by store clerk Aizawa (Yukai), he fires at him, grazing his arm. Unbeknownst to Yasuda, Aizawa is a heroin addict whose drug problems have sidelined his dreams of rock stardom, and he's so high that the pain doesn't affect him. Following Yasuda outside, he chases after him. To complicate matters, he runs into Takeda (Tsutusumi), a yakuza to whom he's heavily in debt and whom Yasuda bought a gun from. The three men chase each other obsessively through the streets of Tokyo well into the night.
I'm not sure why NON-STOP took four years to find American distribution, but obscure cultural references can't be the reason. While it's a yakuza film, it also partakes of an international lingua franca of hip, stylized nihilism, making it a kissing cousin to films like RUN LOLA RUN, GO and Wai Ka-Fai's TOO MANY WAYS TO BE NO.1. It owes a large debt to PULP FICTION, but as David Bordwell has observed, Tarantino-influenced Asian films have tended to draw from his playful structures, while American filmmakers have aped his dialogue instead.
What most distinguishes NON-STOP from contemporary Hollywood genre fare is its juggling of time and speed, like a DJ spinning excerpts of a record backwards or at 16 and 78 rpm . (In this respect, POINT BLANK and Steven Soderbergh's thrillers are among its closest American relatives.) For an action movie, it's strangely oneiric, even borderline melancholic. Its present may be a continual marathon, but Sabu varies the pace by speaking in the past and conditional tenses frequently. Especially in the first 30 minutes , the action is fleshed-out by flashbacks, as well as the device of having the same events depicted from two characters' point of view. (Aizawa's first-person perspective suggests that Sabu thinks heroin is a psychedelic.) Without flashbacks, NON-STOP would have no character development whatsoever. However, it goes beyond this relatively conventional technique by dramatizing its characters' fantasies: heroic self-mythologizing and hot sex scenes with women they pass on the street.
NASHVILLE SCENE critic Noel Murray has theorized that the long-term impact of DVD may result in a cinema of set pieces that don't add up to an organic whole, proposing Paul Thomas Anderson's BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA as precursors of this new breed of narrative. While I don't quite agree with his argument, NON-STOP strikes me as exactly the kind of film he's talking about. It's not exactly a succession of set pieces (in fact, Sabu places his final climax offscreen, and the overall flow matters more than any individual scene), yet it feels like a work whose pieces have been put together in arbitrary order and could be re-arranged to much the same effect. It might be a worthwhile exercise to watch it in random order on DVD and see if it holds up in this shuffled format, as Nicolas Saada did with GROUNDHOG DAY for his CAHIERS DU CINEMA column LE LECTEUR DE DVD.
Sabu's ease with non-linear time frames produces a weightlessness that's
not always beneficial, although it's appropriate to men who find
their redemption - to the extent that one exists - in velocity. For
Yasuda, Aizawa and Takeda, even a ridiculous quest better than the messes
they've made of their lives and the one they're heading towards once the
race ends. Their world is a club of immature boys, with women relegated
to distant, unattainable objects of desire or nagging, maternal figures.
The chase's main pleasure comes when exhaustion begins to work
like a drug, allowing them to start dreaming with their eyes open. This
state of hallucinatory euphoria, commingled with dread, is the film's presiding
mood, producing a finale with a very Japanese mix of calm and chaos and
an ending that just barely rises above casual nihilism. There may not be
much hope for the characters of NON-STOP, but any film this enthusiastic
about editing's unlimited temporal and narrative possibilities
- while avoiding Oliver Stone's brand of AVID abuse - can't help
but feel a little optimistic.