Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sabu on "Crab Cannery Ship", part one

Update: JG comments on his first-hand impressions of Sabu and the importance of sound in his work here.

From an interview by Nagano Tatsuji in Cyzo:

NT: As a symbol of our inequal society, the novel "Crab Cannery Ship" (Kanikosen) [recently] became a huge bestseller and its title was chosen as one of the top 10 buzzwords of 2008, but as it was written 80 years ago it's quite frankly a difficult read. Had you read the book before?

S: No, I hadn't. I don't read novels, proletarian literature, or bestsellers. For this job, I read it for the first time. It was a learning experience (laughs).

NT: You're a screenwriter as well as a director, and yet you haven't read the likes of Shakespeare. If Kurosawa Akira was still alive, he'd probably keel over on hearing that.

S: Shakespeare's something I haven't read yet. It's about time I did (laughs). Since my student days I never read novels. I just listened to music all the time. After I came to Tokyo and became an actor, I gradually started reading more. When I did, they described worlds I never knew about and I thought "Hey, this is interesting."

NT: So you were brought up in an environment that was richer in music than literature. It's true that your works all have a unique rhythm and tempo, and they give the impression of music emanating from the visuals.

S: Yeah, music's really important to me. When I write a script, it's always while listening to music. And when I use it in a film I like music playing on a car radio, or the sound of a train, or the noise of a city rather than background music. When I read "Crab Cannery Ship", I heard the sound of machinery. I thought "I can use this for scenes where the protagonists become agitated." Even in places where there's no sound, you can still hear the "thump, thump" of a human heartbeat. Percussive sounds are very useful for depicting tense situations.

NT: So when you're imagining a scene, music naturally makes itself heard to you. It's as if you're blessed with something akin to perfect pitch.

S: (laughs) It's definitely easier to create a story when I start hearing its sounds. When I'm writing a script too, if I try to create dialogue with a walking rhythm, the results are more interesting. I can't come up with good ideas when I'm stuck behind a desk.

NT: "Crab Cannery Ship" has been reborn as an avant-garde entertainment film in your hands, but how did you view the significance of telling a story about class warfare in this age?

S: The book has been [bought] by over 1.6 million people, probably because of the [recent] recession and a whole lot of other reasons, but I think that everyone read it because they wanted to find something beneficial for themselves in it. I'm sure they probably wanted to discover some hope or light within the book. I wanted to pick up on that in a big way in the film. Rather than class warfare, it's about how to break free of your current situation, and what you have to become to do that, and that you have to decide that for yourself. I wanted to properly push the importance of making your own decisions to the forefront.

NT: On the Russian ship that saves Shinjo the fisherman (Matsuda Ryuhei), the Chinese interpreter (Tezuka Toru) barks at him "You've got to think and think, then act", and it's a line with a message that's very you.

S: Yeah, um, that line said by the dodgy Chinese guy is the most important one in the entire film. Doing nothing out of fear is the worst thing to do. You can only think for yourself, and act of your own volition. It's the same for me when I write a script. Before I start writing, I lie in bed worrying "What am I going to do? What am I going to do?", but by thinking and thinking and then beginning to write, the way becomes clear. You have to keep doing that. If I'd thought "I don't know squat about class warfare" and shut my brain off when I was offered the "Crab Cannery Ship" adaptation, that would have been the end of it. But when I started to write, I came up with the gag about the boat lurching and thwarting everyone as they were trying to hang themselves, after which they say "Ah, that was a close one."

NT: Your first film "Dangan Runner" was also about three men who think about various things while they're running.

S: That's right, all the things I make my films about, I came up with when I was an actor. In that regard, this time I was adapting a book, so the goal was already in sight. All that was left to figure out was whether I could make all the men in the film head for that same goal in one go.

NT: I was wondering how you were going to have the men running inside the boat.

S: (laughs) In terms of psychological distance, they're made to run quite a bit. That's because they go from thinking "Let's all die, and find happiness in the next life" to contemplating how to live positively as individuals.


  1. Is this 2008 best-seller the manga version? I've read that the Sabu was inspired by the manga and not the original novel .. i'm quite confused in the end! :)

  2. The film is based on Kobayashi Takiji's 1929 novel, which was re-published by Shincho Bunko in 2008 on the 75th anniversary of the author's death.

    Anyway, Sabu's film is more of a 'reimagining' of the book than a faithful adaptation. The basic narrative is there, but it's a very altered beast compared to the Kanikosen I read.

  3. thanks for the answer!
    btw, can we expect to dind here the same deli.cious link widget? .. it was the main reason why i visited your blog :)

  4. Give me a break. Sabu has and always will be a hack.

  5. Martin,

    I'm not going to be aggregating links anymore, but I will be posting some now and then in my Twitter feed.


    Care to elaborate? Preferably not anonymously?

  6. sad news! anyway .. thanks for the link aggregration job done on previous years!
    btw, i am making a similar job on my website ( .. limited to some paper/essay/interview though.