Now On Hi-YAH!: Hugo Sakamoto’s A JANITOR Paints By Bloody Numbers With A Solid Assassin Crime Thriller
Disclaimer: This review discusses gun violence on school grounds.
Before he took the global festival scene by storm with Baby Assassins, Hugo Sakamoto was already the talk of genre forums and film industrialists for his winning work in both action and horror productions. Last year’s release of action crime drama, A Janitor stands the test of time, to that affect, with Well Go USA’s Hi-YAH! squarely catching on and adding it to their service, effectively certifying Sakamoto as one of the most promising directors making headway in the past year.
Sakamoto directs from a script by Shozen Matsudaira, which sets things in motion with the violent flashback of a father shot dead – childhood tragedy suffered by a young Akira Fukami, who is then taken in by his father’s sworn blood brother, Yoshiki Majima (Kazuhiro Yamaji), who happens to be the criminal underworld’s most powerful tycoon. Years later, Fukami is all grown up and working as a janitor in a remote high school, in quiet service of Majima as his best-trained assassin, and secret bodyguard to his daughter, Yui (Haruka Imou). When Majima decides to close up shop and set up in Hong Kong to avoid Japan’s stricter crackdowns, criminal underling, Nishimori (Hannya), is none too pleased. He instead plots to have him killed, using Fukami to get the job done, ensuing a chaotic and bloody fallout with Fukami spurned by a deadly secret, and brought full circle to his fate with one important task: To protect Yui no matter what.
If you enjoyed Sakamoto’s keen direction in Baby Assassins, what he brings to the table with the more darker, moodier, and brooding A Janitor won’t be that much different. Fukushi leads with a steady head as the film’s anti-hero coping with childhood trauma, lacking in a proper education, and not really able to socialize or speak with conviction at times, though this doesn’t hinder him from keeping about his wits, particularly when picked on by a trio of teenagers earlier on in the film. He’s a lost soul with a cool hand, but when he learns a devastating truth during a crucial moment in the film, his emotions finally begin to surface. Rage, pain, anger, confusion, all of it.
Yui’s relationship with her father is a whole other odeal – her reluctance on full display to accept her future as it is already written with Majima standing firm in his principles, and with close friend, Hiro (Masayuki Ino) as the only person she can really confide in. Hiro also happens to be a white belt in some style of fighting, which sort of comes in handy, albeit briefly, particularly when shit gets real thick in the bloody third act and armed assassins begin to descend unto the school, targeting Fukami and looking to kidnap Yui.
Some of the film’s antagonists bring the film’s bigger drama highlights, though, including Hannya, as the often incorrigible and manic Nishimori, and actor Tomoya Maeno, whose role as the unassuming Mr. Honda will be sure to take you by surprise. Included among the villain roster, to name a few more, are the addition of actress Akari Takaishi and Saori Izawa in what would easily come across as a precursor to Baby Assassins if things were different. Their immaculate chemistry is on full display in A Janitor, making it all the clearer why it is that Sakamoto chose these two for his action comedy follow-up and with Izawa right on queue showcasing her fast-twitch screenfighting caliber opposite Fukushi, and thrilling stunt coordination by Masayoshi Deguchi.
The film ends with a poignant flashback scene and a shot of Fukami, where you can’t really tell if he meets his demise. Said flashback cosigns the ending with a sequence of respite happiness for our main character in his own paced evolution. More importantly though, it can’t be emphasized enough that A Janitor might be triggering for otherwise eager fans as it does include brutal and bloody gun violence in a mostly-empty school building with a handful of background characters to foundate our main ones in the film’s progression. It will be unsettling if you or someone you know has been exposed to certain real-world traumas, in which case, you’re totally within your right to avoid. Beyond that, what Sakamoto packages in A Janitor is amply enough for fans of Japanese action cinema to get behind, and with a cerebral assassin crime drama that cleans house, leaving explosive character moments, hard-hitting action and brutal retribution in its wake.
Watch A Janitor exclusively on Hi-YAH!
Lead cover image via RIGHTS CUBE, Inc.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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