The ideal starter movie for those who wish to familiarise themselves with the work of the paradoxical Japanese auteur, Hana-Bi
(the word means "fireworks" in Japanese) is an echt
example of "Beat"'s Takeshi Kitano's distinctive brand of existential crime thrillers. Like Violent Cop
, Boiling Point
or his LA-set Brother
juxtaposes shocking bursts of violence with reflective moments of lyricism, setting up a slap-caress-slap rhythm that's as disquieting as it is addictive.
Kitano himself plays weary Tokyo cop Nishi, an impassive-faced detective in hock to yakuza mobsters, toughened by a career in violence (at one point he takes out an attacker's eye with a chopstick, an assault so swiftly edited one barely has time to register it). Nishi's Achilles-heel is his love for his wife Miyuki (Kayoko Kishimoto) who is dying of cancer, following their late daughter to the grave. When Nishi leaves a stakeout to attend to her in hospital, a colleague, Horibe (Ren Osugi) is paralysed in the ensuing shootout. Nishi, guilt-stricken, goes on the run with Miyuki, taking her to beauty spots to enjoy simple pleasures like kite-flying and picnics before she dies, although the yakuza are never far behind. Meanwhile, Horibe takes up painting, and discovers in the process a calming new vocation (the na&239;ve, disturbing and strangely beautiful images are by Kitano himself, painted after he had his own near-fatal experience in a motorcycle accident).
The cumulative effect is a profoundly moving and enigmatic movie, one that discreetly withholds many of the narrative crutches--backstory, motivation--you would expect from a conventional Hollywood movie with the same story. It's not surprising Kitano is so drawn to characters teeming with contradictions, given that his own career seems so bi-polar on paper: he started out a television presenting clown, and his move into glowering policiers represented an image volte-face as surprising to Japanese audiences as it would be if Dale Winton had started making Scorsese-style gangster movies. His comic sensibility shines through in spots in Hana-Bi, even more so in the broad comedy Kikujiro. Considered by many critics Kitano's best film, Hana-Bi^'s power is augmented by Hideo Yamamoto's lapidary cinematography, and Jo Hisaishi's lush, string-laden score. --Leslie Felperin
Takeshi Kitano directs, writes and stars in this downbeat thriller. Monosyllabic detective Nishi (Kitano) leaves the force after his partner Horibe is seriously wounded and two colleagues are killed in pursuit of a gunman. Dedicating his life to caring for his terminally ill wife, as well as providing for the wheelchair-bound Horibe, Nishi accrues crippling debts. After robbing a bank to ease his financial worries, Nishi takes his wife on a final holiday, pursued by loan sharks and the police.