With “Abacus and Sword,” Yoshimitsu Morita has accomplished the seemingly impossible — a samurai film with no action whatsoever. The hero of his costumer, a workaholic accountant dubbed “the Mad Abacus” by lazier cohorts, wields that tool instead of a blade in a weirdly timely tale about the heroism of sticking to a budget. A lingering suspicion of irony persists (Morita directed the mordant satire “The Family Game”), but it’s hard to pin down, given the film’s straightforward, even sober execution. Never boring, the pic nevertheless proves provocatively bland fare, virtually guaranteeing commercial indifference beyond Japan.
“Abacus” begins promisingly enough, with Naoyuki (Masato Sakai) discovering grave inconsistencies in the rice supplies destined for the starving poor. Despite pressure from all sides, he perseveres, unable to stand numbers that don’t balance. But this intransigence triggers no drama, and pic soon settles into domestic tranquility. “Abacus” is set amid the economic upheaval that accompanied the decline of feudalism, and its contemporary relevance is clear. While disapproving neighbors sink deeper into debt, Naoyuki imposes a program of austerity on his family (who watch in consternation as plump culinary delights give way to unadorned staples).