The gun goes off. Blood sprays across the frame. What next? Do we laugh all the way to Jimmie’s and scrape Marvin’s brains from the window, as was the Tarantino approach in Pulp Fiction? Or do we sit in stunned silence, shocked by the violence? With Takeshi Kitano at the helm, expect the latter – even when black humour is part of the mix.
The man behind Sonatine and Hana-Bi knows a thing or two about stopping an audience dead in its tracks. International acclaim has been growing steadily ever since Kitano added directing to his many talents (as well as acting in his movies, you’ve seen him in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and, ahem, Johnny Mnemonic). And, in his first feature away from home soil, Tokyo’s most famous workaholic continues to prove why he’s one of the most remarkable film-makers working anywhere in the world.
You could argue, however, that Kitano the actor is the same in every one of his movies: utterly still, virtually mute, with only the tiniest hints of human warmth buried deep beneath his stony exterior. What he has created, and refined here to the point of perfection, is the embodiment of “silent but deadly” – the calm eye of a storm that unleashes mayhem on everyone else. Kitano’s immobility, coupled with his directorial style, is what keeps the film tense, edgy and compulsively unpredictable.
Scenes of noble sacrifice and hari-kiri connect this contemporary crime flick to a past age when codes of honour defined the behaviour of heroes and villains alike. As excessive bloodletting allows orphaned brothers to rediscover each other and create a new dynasty, we realise this is more Jacobean revenge tragedy than John Woo bullet-fest. You could even say this is Kitano’s Godfather, as he lures a well-worn genre down a dark alley, slaps it about a bit, and proves that screen violence still has the power to shock and disturb.