Takagi (Shinichi Tsutsumi) is a Japanese businessman who wakes up in an amnesiac blur in a Tokyo hotel room. While searching through his pockets for clues as to what happened over the previous days, he remembers attending a disastrous funeral for a co-worker, having a drink in a bar full of yakuza, and his memories only get more worrisome from there.
Monday, released back in 2000, is the fourth feature film by Japanese director Sabu and stars his most regular collaborator: actor Shinichi Tsutsumi. It is a scattershot black comedy with a lot of great moments but no real momentum. It drags right at the point when it should rattle along, and completely loses direction during its odd, near-incomprehensible climax. For pre-existing fans of Sabu’s work – which includes the likes of Drive (2002), Usagi Drop (2011) and Chisuke’s Journey (2015) – it may prove a fascinating insight into his earlier work. For general viewers it really does not feel like it is worth the time taken in watching it.
It all begins promisingly. The first flashback is to an awkward funeral, one interrupted by a phone call reporting that the deceased’s pacemaker was never taken out, and that someone at the funeral will have to cut into the body to sever a critical wire to prevent it from exploding. It is appalling and uncomfortable, although not very graphic, and effectively sets up the dark vein of comedy that runs through the film. From there the film passes by Takagi having an unsatisfactory conversation with his girlfriend, before leaving with a friend for a drink. He spies an attractive woman at the bar, goes to the toilet before attempting to chat her up, and when he emerges the entire population of the bar has shifted from general patrons to a large pack of yakuza gangsters. His awkward, business-like interactions with others, compared with his internal flights of fantasy when alone, make Takagi a great comedic protagonist. Tsutsumi plays him very well.
That, however, is all in the film’s first half, which is a particularly funny if weird comedy. At about the halfway mark of the film a shotgun gets brought into play, at which point the comedy begins to suffer as the tone gets darker and bleaker with each scene. The pacing suffers as well: the second half drags terribly, and seems to meander around at the tonal level without a clear intent or resolution. The actual climax goes wildly off the wall, with Takagi hallucinating a group of white devils around him that control his actions and an entire police siege develop. The viewer is left waiting for a punchline that simply never quite eventuates. The resolution provided is as obvious as it is unsatisfactory.
Tsutsumi is great as Takagi, and the film has some entertaining supporting performances as well. Occasionally an absolutely masterful scene will emerge, notably Takagi’s sensual dance with a yakuza leader’s girlfriend in a private bar, but more often than not the film’s direction and staging feels functional and conservative. Sabu has directed some excellent films over the year; it is a shame that Monday simply cannot be one of them.