Kanikosen / 蟹工船 / The Crab Cannery Ship
Takiji Kobayashi’s 1929 novel, Kanikosen (The Crab Cannery Ship) became a surprise bestseller when it was republished a few years ago. The taught social realist story of exploited workers on a factory trawler caught the public imagination not only for its great writing, but also for still being relevant to the zeitgeist of the oncoming hard economic times. Even more surprising is having SABU, director of stylish and fairly insubstantial thrillers bring this miserablist tale to the screen. Despite having a great set of wonderful character types – including star Ryuhei Matsuda (the love/desire interest in Gohatto) – he overwhelms the basic themes of exploitation and rebellion with over-the-top production and costume design, absurdly overwrought situations and a less than passionate relationship to the source material. SABU is up against some formidable classics. Kainkosen draws heavily in theme from Battleship Potemkin and in look from Metropolis, but unlike the makers of those seminal films, SABU tends toward the ironic and flashy rather than digging deep into the heart of what Kobayashi’s novel revealed.
Originally published in EL Magazine, July 2009