Netflixable? Hit-man hijinx are what “The Fable” knows best

He’s stoic, a humorless loner. Unless he’s replaying his favorite TV commercials starring the infantile comic “Jackal.” Those move him to hysterics.

He’s tougher than tough, with the scars to show for it. But he freaks out like a little boy if his food’s too hot.

He’s unblinking, unflinching, and prone to doing everything around the house from computing to working out in the nude.

And as we’ve seen in the opening scene, a geisha restaurant slaughter, he’s a methodical hitman who does the calculus of a kill before he pulls the trigger. We see graphics (a “Terminator” or Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” movies trick) of the targeted spot he wants to hit, the angle the bullet will travel and the many many variations of each shot he has to wade through in the blink of an eye.

He’s so good he’s mythic. Call him “The Fable,” because this masked-murderer (Jun’ichi Okada) might be just that, someone who doesn’t exist.

The long, somewhat sluggish comic thriller director Kan Eguchi gets out of this manga adaptation has scattered laughs and lots and lots of killing, much of that played as comedy, too. We are not that amused.

But the big set-pieces here are wowzers, good enough to merit a sequel (“The Fable: A Hitman Who Doesn’t Kill”), so let’s dive in.

Our nameless mass murderer (“hundred of kills”) has just finished cleaning up “some trouble,” so his boss (Kôichi Satô) sends him and his Tokyo driver-sidekick (Fumino Kimura) off to Osaka to lay low.

They are to “blend in” as “ordinary” citizens, Boss instructs them (in Japanese with English subtitles). But as he is being put up by a mob ally, our hero will go as “a professional,” just not himself, the legend others call “The Fable.”

“Don’t you DARE get into trouble,” the boss who trained him warns. “No killing.” If he does, “I’ll kill you.”

That’s going to be tricky, as there are a lot of mob “problems” swirling around Director Ebihara (Ken Yasuda). A mob-connected sociopath (Yûya Yagira) is about to get out of jail and stir things up. And then there’s this contract killer (Sôta Fukushi) out to find this “Fable,” and test himself against him in the midst of what could be a mob coup in the making.

All the Fable, hiding under the name Akira with his hard-brawling, hard-drinking “sister,” wants is get a job and pretend to lead an ordinary life, with just enough mobsters knowing he’s there to prevent that.

Okada maintains a poker face for most of the movie, until those goofball commercials by the Jackal show up. He dissolves into hysterics, something no one around him quite understands.

The comedy is played broadly while the action beats have a methodical dullness about them. He wades through foes in ways that are more impressive as you repeat-watch them in slow motion. At speed, the killing is perfunctory, driven by a need to impress through sheer numbers.

I wasn’t. Not much, anyway.

Flashbacks explaining how The Boss and The Fable met are unnecessary.

The complications are a damsel (Mizuki Yamamoto) in distress, a mobster wanting to pimp her out, kidnappings and the threat of rape, all with poor Akira forced to handle the situation without actually killing anybody.

As a gimmick, that’s kind of interesting. But the explanations — reduced lethality bullets and what not — are feeble.

Still, all involved seem to think that’s enough to hang not one movie, but a sequel titled “A Hitman Who Doesn’t Kill” on. Maybe they get a better handle on their plot device in the second film. “Fable,” despite its excessive run time and stretches of tedium, was at least popular enough to warrant having another go with this character.

Rating: TV-MA, bloody violence

Cast: Jun’ichi Okada, Fumino Kimura, Mizuki Yamamoto, Sôta Fukushi, Ken Yasuda, Yûya Yagira, Osamu Mukai and Kôichi Satô.

Credits: Directed by Kan Eguchi, scripted by Watanabe Yusuke, based on a manga by Katsuhisa Minami. A Nippon TV film on Netflix

Running time: 2:03

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.