Jam is return to form for actor-director, Sabu. After some thematic and stylistic drift, which has seen him give light-hearted family drama a chance with Usagi Drop (2011) then try his hand at romantic comedy with Chasuke’s Journey (2015), Jam, along with another recent film, Mr. Long (2017), sees the return of Sabu’s signatures His better known films feature walking, running, and other forms of physical movement which also guide the narrative to move to the next plot point. What’s new in Jam is Sabu’s non-linear approach to narrative.
The film follows three characters as they try to move from
one place to another. Hiroshi (Sho Aoyagi) is an Enka idol moving from private
performances to a big concert at the civic center; Tetsuo (Nobuyuki Suzuki) is out
with a hammer to take revenge to the gang who left him to be arrested; and Takeru
(Keita Machida) has heard the voice of god and is out to do three good deeds
Looking at the narratives separately, the three stories have
different approaches that complement each protagonist’s persona. In composition
and editing Hiroshi’s, arc tends to be as smooth, as is his attitude towards
his female audience during private concerts. Tetsuo’s is grittier, more rugged,
as is his troubled personality. Takeru’s seem to be trapped between the two approaches:
his jolly personality and his current disposition as a grieving lover are what causes
the film’s tug between comedy and tragedy.
As it weaves the narrative, the film also weaves the styles.
Tones overlap. When Takeru meets Hiroshi, the film suddenly gets a comedic
vibe. The film seems darker when the characters intersect with Tetsuo. Hiroshi,
being the smooth flowing character, seems to be the one adaptive to the strong
tones of both arcs. These shifts in tone, rather than complicating the whole
structure, give the film a more varied texture.
Jam does not aim for balance. And this is, I think, its best artistic achievement: it never pretends to expose all sides of the story, despite depicting each characters’ dilemma. We know very little information about each of them and this neglect of knowledge is what Sabu exploits to the point that we might not be able to understand each character fully. And because there are a lot of things that we don’t know, the film keeps us interested. Each sequences hangs, as if waiting for someone to hold it or touch it. These hangers are exploited in the film to further close the initially loose narratives. How Hiroshi the Enka singer became linked with the criminal gang is told loosely. The same applies to how Tetsuo is tied with Takeru. But this looseness is exactly what drives the narrative forward.
On the other hand, the non-linear narrative style reveals a
unifying thread: the criminal gang. It is in this sense that Jam becomes more emphatic to its
characters, whether major or minor. The non-linear narrative style Sabu
utilizes here recalls Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp
Fiction (1994) wherein the amount of screen time for each character is not
really significant. The characters unfold through their unique personalities, which
overemphasize or exaggerate their respective archetypal cliché. This, in
effect, makes them all almost equally remarkable. In Jam, it does not matter whether the criminals have become a side
story to the three arcs as the film is generous enough to reveal to us what
a play on different elements, temperaments and tones. It’s a seemingly fresh
formal exercise for a veteran such as Sabu. Admittedly, it’s a kind of work that
might not feel right to some. Its looseness might even appear indecisiveness while
its deliberate inconsistencies might appear as misinformed aesthetic. But like
freestyle jazz, it’s this jam that makes the whole worth experiencing rather than
Epoy Deyto has been writing about films and anime since 2009 and has recently moved his writings from Kawts Kamote to Missing Codec. He’s currently taking his Master’s in Media Studies (Film) at the UP Film Institute.