Tak Sakaguchi was a former streetfighter who made his acting debut in Ryuhei Kitamura’s gangsters v. zombies actioner Versus. Five years ago, he apparently retired from performing in front of the cameras to concentrate on directing and choreographing – but then Re:Born came along. It’s a film with a USP to stir martial arts’ fans’ loins; here is a brand new form of combat developed especially by Tak (as he prefers now to be known) and director Yûji Shimomura, and whatever the merits or otherwise of the film, enthusiasts will no doubt want to see what ‘Zero Range Combat’ is all about.
The merits of the film are somewhat relative. The first 45 minutes are a rather static introduction, lots of lingering long-shots and sudden close-ups of our protagonist and the young girl he looks after sitting and occasionally walking around, punctuated by infrequent fight sequences, for which not much explanation is offered.
Then Tak gets a couple of sidekicks and the whole thing is laid out; it transpires he’s retired from active special forces duty and his old boss is sending operatives to kill him. The young girl is kidnapped and the scene is set for a face-off. We then get a full 45 minutes’ worth of ‘Zero Range Combat’ as Tak and his two accomplices make their way through the woods to the abandoned building where the little girl is being held hostage, with Tak eventually confronting first his old partner and then his old boss.
During the course of the film, and mostly concentrated in its second half, there are probably in the region of 200 deaths by close combat, and fans of the genre will be entirely satisfied by its conclusion; the story beats in the second half follow exactly the order you’d want and expect, so while there might not be any surprises there is at least viewer fulfilment. Lots of viewer fulfilment in fact, of the throat-slitting neck-crunching variety. Tak himself still looks pretty nimble even at the age of forty, although the sequences where he flexes ready for battle are overdubbed with a sound effect that makes his muscles sound like a bag of marbles being rocked in slow motion, as they prepare for a quick tango in front of the Strictly judges.
The fighting itself is effective and bloody if somewhat obscured by being in such close quarters, but it certainly makes a change from the usual kickboxing or other more traditional techniques, and there’s a staccato kineticism to it that will undoubtedly impress. Altogether anybody who enjoys a bit of screen martial arts won’t be disappointed by a film that’s probably destined to become something of a minor classic of the genre.
Extras: Filmmakers’ introduction, trailer
RE:BORN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: YÛJI SHIMOMURA / SCREENPLAY: BENIO SAEKI, TAK SAKAGUCHI / STARRING: TAK SAKAGUCHI, AKIO ÔTSUKA / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 12TH