Nov 15, 2000 at 12:00 am

This egregiously hip 1996 black comedy plays like a cross between Run Lola Run (which it actually predates by two years) and one of Beat Kitano’s deadpan Yakuza massacre flicks. Directed and written by Hiroyuki Tanaka under the nom-de-cute Sabu, it rises above its disposable mise-en-scène by dint of its engaging mix of brooding and whimsy.

The movie is a long-distance chase which begins with the sad sack Yasuda (Tomoro Taguchi), a would-be bank robber who, after much precise planning, realizes at the last moment he’s forgotten his mask and so goes to a nearby drugstore to shoplift one (gauze surgical masks are easily attainable in Japan and even come in children’s sizes). He’s caught in the act by the store cashier Aizawa (Diamond Yukai), who proceeds to go after him, gun in hand.

About a mile or so into their impromptu race, Aizawa is spotted by Takeda (Shinichi Tsutsumi), a young drug-dealing Yakuza to whom he owes money. Brandishing a knife, Takeda chases the gun-toting Aizawa, who continues to pursue the hapless Yasuda.

During the chase, which lasts for about 90 percent of the film, we get flashbacks for each of the trio, explaining how they ended up where they are. As hours go by and the runners start to become giddy from their exertions, the film slips into a lightly surrealistic mode.

Unfortunately, it all comes crashing down to earth for a familiar 40-guns-drawn face-off between two opposing Yakuza clans and a handful of hot-dogging cops. Still, this Sabu is one clever guy and manages to keep his film entertainingly offbeat right up to the point where he runs out of breath.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Star Gratiot (Gratiot at 15 Mile Road) as part of the Shooting Gallery film series. Call 810-791-5427.

Richard C. Walls writes about film and music for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].