Director: Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano
Screenplay: Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano
Producers: Masayuki Mori, Yasushi Tsuge, Takio Yoshida
Starring: Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano, Ren Osugi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Susumu Terajima
BBFC Certification: 18
Duration: 103 min
Fireworks Night… what better way to celebrate this glorious historical English event than by looking at an award-winning Japanese film from 1997…. Bare with me.
HANA-BI or ‘Fireworks’ as it translates as, and was released by in the U.S.A., is an award-winning film written, directed by, edited by and starring Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano.
The film follows Nishi (Takeshi), a hard-edged cop with a tendency to act violently and irrationally. Following the shooting of his colleague and closest friend, Horibe (Ren Osugi), which has left him wheelchair bound, and the deaths of two of his colleagues in trying to bring down the culprit, Nishi is ravaged by guilt and sadness, resulting in him quitting the police force. Following his retirement, Nishi is left to tend to his terminally ill wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) who has been diagnosed with leukaemia and is living out her last days at home under his care.
The film is also interspersed with the life of Horibe following his shooting. After his wife and child leave him, he struggles with depression, and instead must find solace in the form of painting.
HANA-BI manages to possess both subtle, tender moments whilst playing host to much darker, gruesome and shocking elements. It plays out at a steady, constant pace with relationships explored in great depth. While in stark contrast, we see ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ flashes of violence, anger and blood which leap out at you and jolt your senses from the lull they had been in whilst watching the more calming, emotional moments in the film. A key example being the moment when Nishi stabs a Yakuza member in the eye with a pair of chopsticks after being mocked by the aforementioned. This is just one of many graphic moments in the film. These are characteristics that have come to define Takeshi as a film-maker and are what set him out from the rest.
The moments of calm in the film are wonderfully accompanied by a musical score from the sublime Joe Hisaishi, most famous for his scores to Hayao Miyazaki’s animations, who once again offers a flawless soundtrack, which adds to the beauty and depth, thus making this film far more than a simple violent cop-flick, which the certificate and a brief summary may lead readers to believe it is.
Takeshi is brilliant in the film and once again makes the art of acting seem effortless. His dead-pan demeanour could be mistaken as laziness or unskilled in modern-day acting, but anyone thinking so would be wrong. Takeshi portrays more emotions in his taciturn manner than all the shouting, screaming and arm-waving could ever hope to achieve.
On first impressions, Nishi is a cold, violent, aggressive officer with very little warmth. But as Takeshi builds the character and the storyline up, we begin to see that Nishi is in fact a caring, loving man whom is deeply affected by the loss of loved ones and the hardships going on around him, but due to his former-profession, he expresses his emotions in a stern, and cold demeanour.
Throughout the film it is hard not to warm to Nishi as his frailties and weaknesses have a stronger impact on the viewer than his often brutal and erratic behaviour, and one finds themselves accepting his moments of madness as necessary actions given his awkward situation in life. This is something Takeshi takes full advantage of in producing the right tone at the end of the film and getting the audience to react with the same thoughts and emotions after the final scene has been shown.
Like many of Takeshi’s films, there is a lot of light hearted relief found throughout too. After all, Takeshi did start his career as a comedian. Whether it be a quick piece of slapstick humour or an argument about ‘bean-cakes’, you’re never too bogged down in seriousness to manage to crack the odd smile which can be a real breath of fresh air at times.
Takeshi is a real master at the minimalist, straight-edged style of film-making that he has come to be known for and it is certainly something to admire. There is very little dialogue throughout the film but in a sense this helps the film flow and the emotions present are allowed to be expressed more freely via imagery and filming techniques without the complexities of too many conversations which can often hamper the flow of a film and convolute it unnecessarily.
The film is trademark Takeshi, and yet again, he weaves the fabrics into the film that has made such a name for him ever since his rise to fame. Anger, guilt, sorrow and love are all brilliantly blended together in a film that expresses everything from love to hate.
Overall, HANA-BI is an emotional roller-coaster ride which will stay with you long after you’ve watched the film. It is a brilliant portrayal of human feelings and the many complexities of life, from the most delicate to the most savage. It is not a perfect film, but it is certainly not far off it, and it is extremely deserving of the critical acclaim and the awards it received. Definitely give this one a watch!
Oh…and there is the odd firework or two!
Review by Thomas Jones