I’m not a personal believer in Karma – as much fixing there needs in this world, that is. As for Japanese auteur SABU’s latest co-piloting with LDH Pictures, Jam, the concept is pretty feasible a plot device as far as film and storytelling go, though my only real concern was for how at least one character would meet his end here. It fell a bit short on my own expectations, but it’s a small nitpick, though, and it didn’t take much away from my own enjoyment throughout.
Pensively etched in doses of wry comedy, brutal drama and action that hits hard where it hurts, Jam culminates around three key characters: A pop star looking to revive his career, an ex-con with a score to settle, and a wheelman desperate to save his girlfriend. Jam kicks off with a stimulating opening score that sets the tone for our first major: a “wake-me-up” sin which a woman superman’s her way from inside a car and out of the windshield, and into the arms of a man visibly daunted by an explosive incident.
Sho Aoyagi (Tatara Samurai) is Hiroshi, a stoic small-time pop singer whose career is reduced to lounges and small auditoriums where fans and admirers in the form of forty-something females congregate. Hiroshi’s plans for a career-changing next day event suddently take a turn for the grim when he bumps into Masako, a superfan who offers him something to drink.
Played by Nobuyuki Suzuki, we later meet Tetsuo, an ex-con fresh out of prison who, with a hammer in hand and no fucks to give, wastes little time laying waste to a room full of gangsters counting cash. He reunites with his senescent grandmother and takes her out for a stroll at her behest, only to face retaliation from the gang.
The film later exhibits the connection between Tetsuo and the gangsters when Takeru, played by Keita Machida, makes his entrance. Takeru is a little naive, but his heart is in the right place, relying on divine consultation as he commits to a daily routine of three good deeds to pay his tithings in order to reawaken his mortally wounded, unconcious girlfriend.
All of this encompasses the first forty minutes or so of SABU’s Jam, an oddball dramedy with an absurdist air that still leaves plenty of room for hearty messaging, contemplation, brutal action and solid performances. Tetsuo’s arc is much simpler, relegated mostly to brooding and studiousness, enjoined with a fair dose of action that is well shot with amply stacked stunt and fight sequencing.
Machida’s Takeru serves as the prime basis for the film’s focus on karma and retribution. Though proving useful in areas where comedy and hapless character quirks are concerned, his arc feels a bit open-ended after building up so much throughout the film which makes it feel like he had to work with what he had for the role.
Aoyagi’s performance as the self-absorbed Hiroshi adds to the brilliance that further coalesces the mayhem and poignance in Jam. Actress Mariko Tsutsui contributes to the mayhem as Masako, an obsessed superfan fresh from a Stephen King novel who initiates a plan using Hiroshi to get even with fellow fans she hates – one that astonishingly falls flat on its face.
At an hour and forty-five minutes, there probably could have been more accomplished in fleshing out more story for Jam for anyone keen on explicit details. That would also mean figuring out how to make the film fun without lagging between moments where the beats matter. Sometimes less is more, they say.
Long-running fans of the multifaceted filmmaker may have more insight for their analysis of SABU’s new union of Gekidan EXILE stars compared to folks like myself. Needless to say, Jam was my first SABU-directed film in the years since seeing him in a Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock release of Takashi Miike’s Ichi The Killer, and I’m sold.