Laid off with the unexpected closing of a local factory, a laborer opts to take a walk rather then join his co-workers in protest. Hands in his pockets, wearing an aimless gaze and never uttering a word, his walk takes him to various places and people, including a ghost played by Seijun Suzuki. When he can go no further, he turns around and walks home.
Having established himself with energetic screwball crime capers like Postman Blues and Unlucky Monkey, Sabu’s The Blessing Bell is a markedly distinct work. The bumbling of Yakuza, the lamentations of murderers and the Rube Goldberg machine plotting that Sabu is so elegant at constructing persist from previous works, but what differs is how Sabu approaches these episodes visually. For the most part, Sabu has the camera capture the action on a proscenium. Like the unfurling of a tapestry the protagonist walks from the left to right across a series of shots, only to pass through them all again on his way home. The effect is an extremely absorbing cinematic representation of Zen philosophy.
In the pivotal role of the wanderer is veteran Japanese actor Susumu Terajima. A familiar player from both Takashi Miike and Takeshi Kitano, but rarely assuming anything more then a supporting role, Terajima’s wonderful face and its seemingly perpetual grimace is fully taken advantage of by Sabu, directing his patient protagonist. It is a deadpan but moving performance of exquisite subtlety.
The Blessing Bell is a wonderfully accomplished film that manages to inspire a contagious sense of optimism despite its brushes with life’s tragedies and suffering.
–Eric Cazdyn and Peter Kuplowsky