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Asia exclusive release directed and starring Kitano Takeshi (Brother, Fireworks, Johnny Mnemonic) in 1993. VHS released in US by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Label. A high level Yakuza (Japanese gangster) with his own turf, Murakawa and his men are asked by the Yakuza boss to mediate a dispute between rival gangs in Okinawa. Murakawa accepts, despite being both unhappy that he has to risk his men's life over a trivial matter, and pretty certain that the whole situation is a set-up. All Code / NTSC. Original Japanese dialogue/ optional English & Chinese subtitles. 2002.
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Eventually things start to get serious and Murukawa's gang start getting bumped off one by one in various ways even though they do fight back. There's lots of violence and bloodletting but the film isn't without charm and a very good sense of humour. There are also twists within the plot which I won't tell you about; you should buy the film!
What I love about this film is especially the music score; it makes me weep it is so profound. And, I can say this too: there are some films, some pieces of music, some poetry etc that can get into the very core of you; you don't know why they make an impact but they do. This film has this in aces. It really is a great film and makes me think of things that I can't really put into words, even though I am writing a review about it! I expect there are numerous pieces of wonderful art and movies and writing and music that move people in similar ways; this is one of those things.
This is a great movie, and Kitano is a genius.
While Takeshi Kitano has worked in any number of genres over the years, when it came to directing, he started with the yakuza film. Many great Japanese directors do (Takashi Miike was getting his start directing V-cinema yakuza flicks around the same time Kitano started, for example). But in front of the camera, Kitano had already spent years as a sketch comedian. It was inevitable that eventually these two disciplines would cross in his work. It ended up not taking long at all; Sonatine, Kitano's fourth picture, blends action and absurd in such a way as to have become a favorite of many of Kitano's fans.
Aniki Murakawa (Kitano) is a Tokyo-based yakuza who runs an inept, but lucrative, gang. Their boss sends the whole crew to Okinawa on what seems to be a routine mission--but when they get there, they find out it's anything but routine and suspect they've been set up. Wounded, the gang retire to a local deserted beach to lay low, heal, and plot their revenge. On their first night there, Aniki rescues beautiful, naïve Miyuki (Aya Kokumai in her screen debut) from an assailant, and for a time, the cares of the world slip away, and the beach hideaway becomes a world apart...but revenge is always knocking on the door.
This should be obvious, but it seems to have not been for some people: this is not a typical gangster movie, any more than the gangster movies of Kitano's idol Jean-Luc Godard were actually gangster movies. If you go into this expecting endless gunplay, you're going to hate it. The core of the film is the time the characters spend at the beach; the yakuza stuff surrounding it is a frame. (Compare and contrast to Godard's Pierrot le Fou, to which this film is an homage, or one of Miike's best efforts, The Bird People in China, which cleaves to the same theme.) It's not about action, it's about soul-searching and redemption and all that stuff that features so prominently in Kitano's comedic films (Kikujiro is an obvious choice here, and Achilles and the Tortoise is another qualifier). And if you go into it looking for THAT, you're going to get much more out of it. Personally, I think it's a wonderful thing indeed, and recommend it without hesitation, though it's not as good as Kikujiro. *** ½
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