Production Company: Nikkatsu
Release: 9 November 1996
Length: 82 min.
Format: 35 mm; 1:1.85
Executive Producer: Nakamura Masuya
Producer: Seto Moto
Photography: Kuriyama Shinji
Music: Okamoto Daisuke
Editor: Tanaka Shinji
Yasuda: Taguchi Tomoro
Aizawa: Daimond Yukai
Takeda: Tsutsumi Shin’ichi
Running for Their Lives
World cinema has rarely seen such a trio of losers as on display in DANGAN Runner. The wimpy Yasuda (Tetsuo’s Tomoro Taguchi) tries to prove his manhood by holding up a bank after his girlfriend jilts him, only to miserably fail because he forgot his mask at home.
Aizawa (Diamond Yukai) struts around on stage as a rock singer, but in his real life is a drug-addicted convenience store clerk who can’t live up to his girlfriend’s love. The tough-looking yakuza Takeda (Tsutsumi Shin’ichi) swears he will die to save his boss, but when the time comes, blithely steps aside and lets his mentor bite the dust.
The actor-turned-first-time-director Sabu (no, not the star of Thief of Baghdad, but Hiroyuki Tanaka from World Apartment Horror) uses these human failures to hilariously parody the macho vanity brandished by the male sex.
Realizing he has forgotten his mask, Yasuda runs into a convenience store by the bank only to realize he doesn’t have any money. He tries to shoplift it, but is stopped by the store clerk–Aizawa, of course–and tries to shoot his way out.
Slightly grazed, Aizawa chases Yasuda all around the neighborhood until the two collide with a passerby–whom we are not surprised to see is Takeda, the two-bit gangster from whom Yasuda bought the gun and Aizawa his drugs. He, too, joins in the escalating pursuit.
This chain of coincidences prompts a seemingly never-ending chase throughout Tokyo. In the meantime, the cops, Takeda’s gang (bent on revenge), and the rival mob (who offed Takeda’s chief) swing into action until all the participants violently converge in an absurd, culminating showdown.
DANGAN Runner’s delightfully parodic excess is epitomized by this chase. Unlike most action movies, where the requisite chase scene takes up a few minutes at best, the three stooges’ marathon continues for 80 percent of the film, supported neither by adrenaline (as in Speed) nor terror (Marathon Man), but by rhythmic editing and the sheer kinetic stupidity of the participants.
Sabu’s film almost seems to be a return to the origins of cinema, recalling classic chase comedies such as those of the Keystone Cops, but in a more postmodern context, with a complex, though skillfully related narrative style.
With cinematic references ranging from yakuza films to Kurosawa, DANGAN (which means “bullet” in Japanese) is a farce about the construction of (self-)images.
Each of the three runners is determined to play a role for an audience in order to prove his manhood. Yasuda, in particular, rehearses and repeatedly looks at himself in the mirror as if to confirm his performance is effective (this “feminine” trait is another sign of his inability to assume the macho mask).
In one of Sabu’s bag of effective tricks, almost all of the characters are allowed an imaginary sequence, a chance to construct their own “film” inside their heads with themselves as the star. One yakuza’s fantasy is even presented as a movie which ends when a fellow yakuza, interviewed after the daydreamer’s imagined Takakura Ken-like demise, shoves the annoying camera away.
It is precisely this macho bravado, this mistaking of image for reality, that inevitably leads to humiliation and even destruction. But Sabu, who also wrote the script, in the end takes pity on his idiotic threesome.
As they run themselves to exhaustion, the purpose of their chase begins to change. No longer are they trying to catch someone, to win this masculine test of strength and endurance. They are running simply to run–for the mere pleasure of it.
It is as if by being utterly humiliated and stripped bare of costuming by their own blunders, this trio of schleps has found meaning to their own lives, an ounce of authenticity to their otherwise pitiful existence.
And through this quite enjoyable movie, maybe we have found another hope to watch out for on the Japanese film scene.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 7 November 1996, p. 9.
Copyright 1996: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow