Leave it to Sabu to make a film about death (with almost no dialogue no less) both very funny and life affirming. Igarashi (Susumu Terajima) wakes one day to walk to work only to discover that the factory at which he’s been hired has been closed and the manager is attempting to commit suicide. Unsure, but not yet beaten he decides to just keep walking. And walk he does. Along the way he has many adventures, someallegorical, some not as much so, but all ultimately leading to a greater understanding of what it important and where he is going.
Never speaking, Igarashi is perhaps the most passive protagonist ever put on screen. His adventures include being falsely accused of stabbing a yakuza and getting thrown into jail, saving some kids from a fire, being hit by a car, talking with a ghost, winning the lottery and getting robbed. His wanderings never seem like he is deliberately searching, he is more a sponge absorbing the activities and confessions of those around him, each person he encounters taking from their time together what they want.
It is not surprising that Sabu had conceived of the film with Terajima in mind as it is largely through the strength of his performance that such a simple premise keeps from falling apart. A fixture in the films of Takeshi Kitano and almost every other popular film out of Japan in the last 10 years, his subtle humor and quiet empathy manage to come through despite his never uttering a word.
The episodic structure and the framing of scenes into vignettes are both simple and effective, driven by an absurd view of the universe that is warmly engaging. Although not as frenetic as much of his early work, “Blessing Bell” represents both Sabu’s maturation and his future hope for Japan. In the wake of the devastation the economic crash brought for many people, “Blessing Bell” is a quiet prayer to not take what we have for granted and to marvel at the universe around us.