Cult Japanese director Sabu makes a stunning return to form with “Monday,” his fourth and best movie to date. A meticulously crafted black comedy about an ordinary salary man sucked deeper and deeper into extraordinary circumstances, this one, of all Sabu’s pics to date, stands the brightest chance of solid niche business. It’s also high time some cinematheques started feting the filmmaker’s oeuvre.
One Monday morning, Takagi (Shinichi Tsutsumi) wakes fully clothed in a hotel room and tries to remember how he got there. A packet of purification salt (for warding off evil spirits) reminds him of a funeral he went to a few days earlier , and the long struggle to reconstruct the past few days begins.
As the movie flashes back and forth between remembered events and Takagi in the hotel room, a bizarre series of coincidences is laid out. After a funeral that ends in chaos, Takagi meets a yakuza and his beautiful moll in a bar, goes back to their nightclub for some more drinks, and then accidentally shoots the yakuza while drunkenly fooling around with a pump gun.
Thereafter, following more unlucky coincidences, Takagi becomes a wanted man, armed and dangerous. As the full enormity of what’s happened descends on him in his hotel room, he switches on the TV and gets another shock.
Initially, pic seems to have a loose, episodic structure that looks like it was made up as the filmmakers went along. But Sabu’s fingerprints gradually assert themselves: a talent for taking the story in a completely unexpected direction just when all options seem to be played out; a straight-faced sense of humor that never cracks; and an emotional intensity that comes from the whole world seeming to be against the protagonist.
What gives “Monday” its freshness, at a time when the director appeared to be in danger of repeating himself with “Unlucky Monkey,” is a new precision in the mise en scene and, building on elements in “Postman Blues,” a growing humanity. The ending, with its powerful anti-gun message, manages to be funny, ironic and moving at the same time — a tribute as much to Tsutsumi’s controlled central perf as to the Swiss clock-like structure of Sabu’s screenplay, in which every detail, finally, is seen to have a place.
The opening reel alone is a classic of sustained, slow-burning comedy, as Sabu takes a serious situation and gradually deconstructs it with absurdities worthy of the Marx Brothers. As the mourners pay their respects at the coffin, someone comments on how it’s facing the wrong way — south, not north. Then, just when everyone has settled down again after readjusting the bier, the deceased’s doctor rings and says there’s a pacemaker in the corpse’s chest that will explode if the body is cremated. The gadget has to be taken out right away, he says. Oh, and don’t forget: cut the red wire, not the white one.
Tech credits are high-grade throughout, and perfs of a piece with the controlled, studied style.