Jun 24, 2022

Kanikosen (2009)

Kanikosen is a 2005 Japanese drama film directed by SABU. The movie is an adaptation of a novel with the same name, written by a Japanese author, Takiji Kobayashi.  It stars Ryûhei Matsuda and Hidetoshi Nishijima

Aboard the Japanese crab ship 'Kanikosen' equipped with a cannery facility, workers are forced to labor under pitiful conditions at minimum wages. Sick of being ruled by their harsh Superintendent, one of the workers, Shinjo, urges his peers to rise up and start a revolution on board of the Kanikosen.
Freddy and Krasnaya Movie Review

K: Today we have a film that cannot be missed in the filmography of SABU. The 2009 film Kanikosen is a hardcore social film based on the 1929 novel of the same name by famed writer Takiji Kobayashi. It shows the totalitarian system of imperial Japan. The film is shot excellently. It played with the strings of my soul, made me feel all the doom of the very bottom position of the crab fishermen. They do work from which you can go nuts. People are like crabs here. They can’t imagine a better fate and catch a ray of hope for a better life (in their case, even after death) or finally dare to change the unfair attitude towards themselves.

F: Hi there! Let me start by correcting you by saying that our SABU movie today is a remake of the movie directed by Sō Yamamura in 1953, of the same name. So, it's not a direct adaptation from the novel. From the start, this is the most interesting movie by SABU due to its historical setting and its two main subjects - life and death and the struggle between classes. It was suggested in the movie by the Chinaman (Tôru Tezuka) that we should spend most of our time thinking. These two topics are the ones which a human being should spend most of his time thinking about, and which can separate us from the crabs caught in the fishing net (IMO). I was happy to see SABU getting past his weird Christianity phase; the one present in the movies we just saw from 2005 (Dead Run and Hold Up Down), and make a comeback from a 3 year directorial hiatus just to make his audience dabble in politics with Kanikosen. SABU is really surprising and I can only be curious as to what he has reserved for us in the future.

Mass Hanging GIF
The work they must had to find all that rope.
K: At the beginning of the film, I thought that this was just another version of a criminal prison story with two sadistic guards who would not be punished for bullying their prisoners. There seemed to be no escape possible from the ship. If the prisoners tried to escape, they would freeze in the waters of the Sea of Okhotsk. But then, SABU showed us a different story, about extremely poor people who got into this hellhole through fraudulent means. Despite the fact that for almost two hours the action took place in the cold hold of a crab boat or in a hot steaming crab-canning factory room, I was not bored of this world at all. The entire film can be cited for its well-thought out dialogues and philosophical monologues from different characters. Every phrase can offer a message of wisdom. All the characters looked like one living organism. Someone made me laugh by not accepting a life as a cow after rebirth, and someone made me sad when realizing with despair that he had gone to hell. All the actors did an amazing job.

The so-so part that I have to mention is about the bright and happy Russians we meet on a different boat. SABU showed Russian crab fishers in some strange theatrical way. They wear these red pants and furry hats, and dance merrily to unfamiliar Russian folk music (I'm Russian and I've never heard that). I think this could have worked better with a more real life scenario.

F: As you said already, we spent most of our time inside Kanikôsen with our unfortunate characters surrounded by a dark bronze environment full of heavy machinery. Sometimes I was looking at what felt like a theater set and I can clearly see that SABU's budget for making this film was not that big, and because of that, the production design was not the best it could be. What was great was to have SABU's characteristic humor back, since we seemed to have lost it back in 2005. I was left wondering about the scene of the mass hanging suicide. It surely looked like one of SABU's crazy and improbable ideas and I doubt that this is written in Takiji Kobayashi's novel. We also get pretty serious with this movie and I think that there are great dialogues and thought-provoking existential questions. For example, one of the scenes you mention above was the one I enjoyed the most. That's when the poor guy who has the vision that he is living in a hot Naraka (Buddhist fiery hell) questions how he can possibly follow Buddha's advice, and have a positive outlook when everything that surrounds him brings unavoidable pain? I think that according to Buddhist cosmology you can't escape your karmic punishment and achieve enlightenment if you are in a hellish realm, you need to be reborn in the human realm. So, this is the reason for such despair coming from Shimizu (Tokio Emoto). How can anyone be positive under such predicament?

About the actors, I only have to criticize the casting of the guy we saw recently in Drive My Car (2021), Hidetoshi Nishijima. I think SABU should have chosen someone a little bit older and more threatening-look for the role of the foreman. Still, I felt anger for his character when he shot our new-found communist hero. Then I was surprised to see Kengo Kora because I was just talking about the movie Fish Story (one of my favorites from Japan) to Krasnaya before watching Kanikosen. I like that guy.

Naraka 👹
K: I definitely recommend this movie. This film will unconditionally motivate you to accomplish something and inspire you to be brave (F: or not 😂). It also serves as an occasion to get acquainted with the work of Takiji Kobayashi and all the fascinating history surrounding him.  

F: So, the big question is - Is SABU a Marxist? ☭ 😂 By the end, our proletariat heroes march with their red-blooded flag in victory and we see a huge clog from the machine falling behind them. Maybe SABU is saying that communism can't work. The machine has stopped and the system is collapsing. Maybe so, but what about when the workers who turn those big clogs are all replaced by the machines and the latter sustain the whole system? What have the owners of the machines reserved for us, the dirty workers? I can only hope they have some sort of Universal Basic Income and not some gas chamber plan ready to roll. Go watch this movie, it's worth it. 

Tomorrow we will say sayonara to SABU here at Cine It. Make sure you check our recommendations in our previous week's wrap-up if you are looking to watch his best movies.

All dance and games in the ol' Soviet Union.
Freddy's Score: 65/100
Krasnaya's Score: 85/100





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