Tag Archives: Takeshi Kitano



Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 11 January 2016

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Takeshi Kitano

Writer: Takeshi Kitano

Alternative title: Fireworks

Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima, Tetsu Watanabe

Japan 1997

103 mins

Takeshi Kitano’s 1997 masterpiece wonderfully mixes ruthless violence and heart-breaking melancholy.

Although his international profile has waned somewhat in recent years, the contribution made to contemporary Japanese cinema by the multifaceted media personality and filmmaker Takeshi Kitano remains incontestable. Having directed a unique series of festival hits throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Kitano was perhaps the most internationally successful and visible Japanese filmmaker of the era, at least outside of the J-horror boom. Working in conjunction with Office Kitano, Third Window Films is revisiting this golden age in the director’s career by releasing three newly restored classics, starting with what many consider his best: 1997’s Hana-bi, winner of the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Film Festival.

Tender and thoughtful, but punctuated with sudden bursts of ultra-violence, Hana-bi is a wonderful synthesis of the conflicting styles of Takeshi Kitano: the pensive auteur, and his more thuggish screen persona, ‘Beat’ Takeshi. Kitano channels both the brutality of his early directorial efforts, such as Violent Cop (1989), where he plays… well, a violent cop, and the observational sensitivity of quieter works like A Scene by the Sea (1991) or the sorely overlooked Kids Return (1996).

In Hana-bi, Kitano stars as Nishi, a former police officer still reeling from a disastrous stakeout that saw one fellow officer killed and another seriously injured (Ren Osugi). His terminally ill and silent wife Miyuki (Kayoko Kishimoto) is discharged from hospital after the doctors admit that there is nothing more they can do. Owing money to the yakuza, Nishi decides to rob a bank to pay his debt, give reparations to the widow of the slain officer, and use the rest to take his wife on one last road trip before she dies.

Those looking for a slice of straight-up Japanese cops-and-gangsters action may be dismayed by Hana-bi, as ‘auteur’ Takeshi wins out over ‘Beat’ Takeshi. The film moves at a relaxed, contemplative pace, even finding the time to include a secondary narrative focused on Osugi’s character, who, bound to a wheelchair as a result of his injuries, has taken up painting as a means of passing the time. These images seem to offer some sense of accompaniment to the main narrative, which is beautifully realised (the paintings seen throughout the film, incidentally, were done by Kitano himself).

Another aspect that takes precedence over the less salubrious moments is Nishi’s relationship with his wife, who, it’s implied, has not spoken since the unexpected death of their child some time earlier. Despite having hardly any meaningful dialogue, Kitano and Kishimoto form a very strong bond as they quietly visit various tourist spots in rural Japan. Kitano manages to twist the psychopathic qualities of his ‘Beat’ Takeshi persona and imbue his character with a pathos that perhaps first reared its head in Sonatine (1993), but is here fully formed, making his violent streak all the more potent and unexpected. It’s a subtle but marvellous performance from a media personality who, in Japan at least, was perhaps better known for clowning about – see, for instance, Kitano’s extended cameo in his zanily polarising comedy Getting Any? (1994).

That’s not to say that, in Hana-bi, Kitano has shed all humour in the pursuit of serious drama. His wry visual wit is present and accounted for: revelation through juxtaposition; taking the time to follow up on incidental characters after they no longer have any bearing on the narrative (one example being the man who tries to put the moves on Nishi’s wife on a beach and is beaten for his insolence; he is seen later by the roadside, drying his clothes and licking his wounds). Kitano also manages to find the right balance between the overall calm pacing of the film and its short bursts of ruthless physical brutality (including, at one point, some nasty business involving a pair of chopsticks), with the two styles gelling together better than one might expect.

After nearly two decades, Hana-bi remains a high point in Japanese cinema’s renaissance of the 1990s. Despite its (pleasantly) meandering quality, it retains enough toughness to appeal to those coming to Kitano’s body of work from other more genre-orientated contemporary Japanese filmmakers. Naturally, if you’re a Kitano fan, you already know what to do.

Third Window Films will be releasing two more films by Takeshi Kitano, Kikujiro (out on 22 Feb 2016) and Dolls (out on 14 March 2016).

Mark Player

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Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives
Only God Forgives

Format: Cinema

Release date: 2 August 2013

BR/DVD release date: 2 December 2013

Distributor: Lionsgate UK

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

France, Thailand, USA, Sweden 2013

90 mins

Spellbinding, visionary and deeply affecting, Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to Drive is one of the absolute must-sees of the year.

Gorgeous, mysterious, immersive, disturbing, dreamlike: with his new film, Nicolas Winding Refn has created one of those beguiling cinematic universes that you don’t want to leave when the credits roll.

From his hard-hitting debut Pusher, via the creepy Fear X, the violent machismo of Bronson and the mythical savagery of Valhalla Rising, Winding Refn has been exploring various facets of the male identity. With Drive in 2011, he has turned to a moodier masculinity, with the help of reluctant heartthrob Ryan Gosling. A bolder, more challenging film, Only God Forgives continues in the same vein, with Gosling playing another great, reticent, melancholy character of the kind he does so well.

Gosling’s Julian runs a boxing club in Thailand, which acts as a cover for his brother Billy’s drug trafficking. When Billy rapes and kills a young Thai prostitute, Julian is forced to deal with the consequences, and must face his overbearing mother Crystal and the fearsome police chief Chang. Verbally economical and visually sumptuous, the film relies on symbolic actions and images rather than words to tell its story – among some of the most memorable, a quixotic fight in a deserted boxing club, surreal police karaoke, a beautiful girl behind the gold curtain of a lapdancing club, and a scene of biblical violence amid a party of dressed-up girls with their eyes shut. The elliptical narrative is brilliantly edited, weaving together dream and reality until the boundaries are completely blurred, and connecting separate times and spaces to create intimate, invisible psychic ties between the characters.

In the Q&A that followed the screening, Winding Refn said that the film was about the idea of fighting God. Chang is indeed a God-like character, of the Old Testament kind, meting out a vengeful justice with an infallible sword and unwavering hand. In the opposite camp, Julian is a stranger in an unfamiliar land – which may well be his own mind – trying to cut a moral path in an immoral human jungle, fighting a doomed fight against forces too mighty, both inside and outside of himself.

The film’s sophisticated ideas are fleshed out by the excellent cast. Gosling brings the powerful mix of poignant sadness and underlying menace that makes him such a compelling actor to watch in Drive and The Place beyond the Pines. Kristin Scott-Thomas is a revelation as the bitchy, selfish, domineering, incestuous mother, while Vithaya Pansringarm has the commanding presence and awe-inspiring authority required for his role as Chang.

With its rich colours and intricate patterns, its sensual, oppressive light and oblique storytelling, and at its centre, a laconic, supernaturally powerful, sword-wielding protagonist, Only God Forgives feels like a very Asian movie, mixing the exquisite aesthetic sense of Chinese filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou with the brutal anti-heroes of Takeshi Kitano. In this darkly seductive, exotic cinematic land nestles the Heart of Darkness-type story (a stunning early sequence that sees Billy and Julian engaged in enigmatic drug talk in a shadowy room, with only their eyes lit, is reminiscent of the ending of Apocalypse Now). Winding Refn makes the influences and references his own with intelligence and imagination, producing his most accomplished work to date. Spellbinding, visionary, ambitious and deeply affecting, Only God Forgives is one of the absolute must-sees of the year.

Virginie Sélavy

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