Kan Eguchi’s award-winning 2019 hitman comedy, The Fable, proved to be every bit as enjoyable as one could hope, and from the looks of things as of late, I would say this is turning more and more into an upstanding action franchise that it deserves to be. The latest sequel treatment from Eguchi’s resumè now arrives as The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill, which is now making the festival rounds after finally releasing in Japan in June following multiple theatrical release delays, and it sees the return of actor Junichi Okada (Sekigahara, Baragaki: Unbroken Samurai), fittingly back in the title role and wearing more than one hat on set this time around.
The opening setup kicks off our new story four years earlier, when our titular anti-hero was busy laying waste to a whole hit-list of unsavory types. Bodies basically dropping like flies with no one the wiser as to who, because that’s how Akira Sato (Okada), a.k.a. the legendary underworld “Fable” works. He moves quick and he kills quicker, and not for nothing either – at one point he kills a little too quick before realizing a potential casualty could arise with teenager Hinako (Yurina Hirate), trapped in the rear passenger seat of an out-of-control vehicle. Rendered unconcious and paralyzed, she’s pulled to safety with seconds to spare, her masked would-be hero never to be seen or heard from again until present day.
Continuing off from the previous story, Sato and his partner Yoko (Fumino Kimura), are still living their small town quiet life moonlighting as brother and sister, with Akira obliging strict orders by their boss (Koichi Sato) not to kill anyone. Akira still works for Takoda’s (Jiro Sato) small printing company, Octopus, with colleagues Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto) and Etsuji (Masao Yoshii), with neither of them any the wiser about who he really is, despite Akira’s own oddities often getting the better of him at times. Common things don’t really register for Akira, like holidays or a woman’s change in looks, point in fact he’s as rigid as he is awkward, but he’s remarkably still likeable in his own way. He has a parakeet for a roommate, enjoys watching cheesy J-dramas, eating anything hot still takes its fair share of time to process, and his arrival time is always impeccable when Yoko is cooking.
Apart from all else, Akira is vigilant, as he has been with Hinako from a distance up until the moment where she spots him watching from a few feet away, much to her chagrin, while she tries to exercise her limp legs in an effort to try and walk again. Hinako is suffering much more than paralysis though, as she’s been forced to live in the care of the seedy head of a non-profit organization, who goes by the name of Utsubo (Shinichi Tsutsumi), and endure some of the worst of his behavior beneath his veneer of philanthopy and kindness. Part of the act here lies in the millions Utsubo and his latest partner, Izaki (Jun Kurose), can extort from people, and their latest target just so happens to be the building where Takoda’s office is.
More to the point, little does the sinister Utsubo know that his past is about to come full circle. A kidnapping ensues with Akira eyeing Utsubo’s personal hitman, Suzuki (Masanobu Ando) as his latest subject of inquiry, a move that ultimately puts him in Utsubo’s crosshairs, forcing him to don the all-black outfit and balaclavas once more and come out fighting. What remains to be seen is how much Utsubo can manipulate Hinako to his own ends, just as all the cards are dealt and innocent lives are once again placed on the line by a murderous villain who Akira, inextricably, is forbidden from killing.
The ongoing mystery of Akira’s alterego in the eyes of all the other unsuspecting underworld villains in the cinematic tapestry that is The Fable, is undoubtedly the beating heart of the excitement and suspense of the story as it progresses. Eguchi executes this brilliantly without being formulaic, while sustaining a headline of interesting characters who all keep the story going in some capacity, even the unassuming Etsuji, played by Yoshii, who finds himself in a harrowing and rather revealing position. It’s a moment that warrants an almost haunting feeling in some ways, and it leaves you thinking about how much darker The Fable cineverse really is in some ways against much of the film’s comedy relief.
Nonetheless, the sequel’s jocose tone remains the same as it has been since the first film, with Okada riding high on Akira’s oddball characteristics as they play off against other characters. There’s no getting around Akira’s fiddly demeanor, while it nonetheless provenly warms up to Hinako despite her own earlier dispositions towards him, and even a lesser-knowing Utsubo at one point, to name a few. Even Suzuki, played by Ando who fans might closely recognize as the uzi-toting and wily Kiriyama in Kinji Fukusaku’s Battle Royale, gets a taste of Akira’s good graces a time or two, and it sets up a valuable opportune period of character development on his part.
The crux of Akira’s story though in this sequel, is suitably more ado with Hinako as the film underscores its messaging. Coupled with a riveting tale of revenge and echoes of redemption in the wake of bloody and violent reprisal, and you get a sequel in The Fable franchise that kicks ass in more ways than several. The incredible feats of action and stunts on the other hand lend feasibly to the full course meal served to audiences with Okada serving as stunt coordinator, and Alpha Stunts and AAC Stunts veteran Makoto Yokoyama (Steve Wang’s Drive, Power Rangers franchise, Wicked Game, Kamen Rider: The First, Yo-Yo Girl Cop, Tokyo Ghoul, Tokyo Ghoul: “S”, She’s Just A Shadow) serving as action director. In continuing the former high-flying shoot-em-up themes coordinated by Alain Figlarz for the first installment, Yokoyama and Okada adapt brilliantly to the formula with action sequences that are tightly-edited and easy on the eyes, and featuring just a few big scale set-pieces and death-defying gags with high-speed cinematography to top it all off.
Considering Okada himself is a physically fit performer worthy of action star label and no stranger to the genre, and with a resume that’s rightly earned him his versatility as an artist, I’m kind of amazed that that the first film hasn’t landed a legitimate release in North America just yet. I’m even more keen on him being an even bigger star in the West as well, but in the meantime, it’s reasonable to believe and/or maybe suggest that (hopefully) Okada is well on his way with The Fable franchise. With two movies in, fans of Asian films and action cinema have a burgeoning IP in Eguchi’s films here that wholly deserves attention, and with a performer as protean and prolific as Okada is, sitting in the driver’s seat and totally owning the part from start to finish.
Several parts assassin thriller and action comedy, and armed with enough zeal to pay tribute to the likes of Tsui Hark, Philippe de Broca and Blake Edwards, The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill bodes as a phenomenal sequel addition to the franchise. It’s a modest continuation presented with a distinctive, healthy balance of everything that made the first film so enjoyable, and still manages to level up enough to leave fans wanting more. Certainly, I’m ready for another.
The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill is currently screening as part of the line-up for this year’s hybrid installment of the New York Asian Film Festival through August 22.