Adapted from a novel by slain proletarian author Takiji Kobayashi, Kanikosen seems, on paper at least, a more apt project for Andrzej Wajda than a punkteur like Sabu, née Hiroyuki Tanaka. But something about Japan’s current financial crisis has allowed this story about the hardships suffered by a group of men inside a crab cannery ship—made into a manga in 2006—to resonate with a new generation of frustrated Japanese underclassmen. Thankfully, this isn’t some astringent period rendering of the communist Kobayashi’s 1929 screed, though by the gonzo standards set by some of Sabu’s other work one could say it lacks the courage of its convictions. The filmmaker applies a distinctly modern genre styling to a sobering text, with the bowels of the ship where the crab canners work notable for its cartoonishly ghoulish gears, pistons, and smoke. But in terms of visual ingenuity, the film peaks way too early, specifically with the eerily absurd vision of one man fearfully taking in the muggy air outside the ship only to be bombarded by falling crabs, then a mass suicide orchestrated by Shinjo (Ryuhei Matsuda) that’s twistedly foiled by the swaying of the vessel, after which Sabu largely shuns the phantasmagoric. Essentially a redundantly argued discourse on the thuggish effects of imperialism on the working man, Kanikosen is littered with jokey flashbacks and visions of the afterlife the canners have after being enticed into expressing their frustrations by the righteous Shinjo, but these sometimes amusing bits of business don’t jibe with the otherwise staightfaced tenor of the film. Every man appears to have the same story (is this Sabu’s communistic sense of characterization?), but because they aren’t developed beyond feather wisps, the whole thing feels unmoored and emotionally bloodless. Suggesting a half-cocked adaptation of Metropolis by Stephen Chow, Kanikosken becomes notable only for not going far enough.
- 109 min
- Ryuhei Matsuda, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Hirofumi Arai
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