"In its incarnation as a 21st century, recession-era satire on worker exploitation and the intersection between globalism and geopolitics, Sabu's Kanikôsen is an atmospheric, if diluted adaptation of Takiji Kobayashi's Shōwa-era leftist novel," begins Acquarello.
At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Leo Goldsmith notes that "the Film Society's blurb for Kanikôsen boldly plays up the film's purported roots in manga (and J Hoberman's recent festival overview in the Village Voice called the film ['manga-style']). But if this is manga, then I'm Astro Boy - Sabu's film is many things, but it doesn't resemble a Japanese comic book... More accurately, the original novel of Kanikôsen was the subject of a bestselling manga last year (which you can download for free here). The success of that work - due in no small part to a very naturalistic and ingenuous stylistic approach - no doubt inspired the making of this film, which seems at first to take a slightly jazzier angle. But sadly, that's where the manga connection begins and ends."
Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky's "mind was constantly toggling back and forth: were the film's aesthetics purposely undermining the book's message or actually trying to buttress it? Such is the minefield of postmodernism - foregrounded technique (in this case in terms of lighting, camera placement, and odd musical cues) can force us to expect critical detachment, and historical excavation can come with a hefty price tag of cultural superiority. It wasn't until the final third of Sabu's stylistically bold, narratively scattershot latter-day communist propaganda that I realized it was neither a precocious reimagining of an outmoded fictional genre, nor a purposely grotesque dramatization of political failure, but rather an earnest modern call to arms."
"Thankfully, this isn't some astringent period rendering of the communist Kobayashi's 1929 screed, though by the gonzo standards set by some of Sabu's other work one could say it lacks the courage of its convictions," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Suggesting a half-cocked adaptation of Metropolis by Stephen Chow, Kanikôsen becomes notable only for not going far enough."
"In contrast to his usual black comedies, Sabu here essays static, claustrophobic setpieces with a deliberately dated frame of reference, complete with utopian vision of Russian egalitarianism," writes Ronnie Scheib in Variety. "Validating the novel's message yet maintaining an absurdist distance from it, Kanikôsen plays more as exercise than drama."
David Fear in Time Out New York: "Even Kobayashi himself might find the flag-waving climax (complete with an actual waving flag!) to be a bit broad; the rest of us may simply view this Upton Sinclair-subtle call to arms as tedious and trying."
NYFF 09: Index; full coverage.