Story: 1923: Kim Shun-pei (Takeshi Kitano) leaves his homeland Korea and starts a new life in Osaka.
Although he fights as a member of a Korean-Japanese unit against China, he doesn't get a warm welcome when he returns to
Osaka. In the nationalistic Japan there seems to be no place for immigrants. Kim Shun-pei and his fellow country men have
to experience this fact every day anew.
Nevertheless, with ruthless harshness and strictness Kim opens a fish factory. He pushes his employees with brutality, and so it is no wonder that he establishes a flourishing business. He even manages to build up a reputation as a loan shark. Money seems to be the only important thing to Kim.
His family Kim treats even more inhuman than his employees. He beats his wife and children, and lives up to his reputation as a cruel patriarch. But his children grow up and start to oppose him. Kims increasing age also lets him feel that he starts loosing control over his family, that in fact only is still intact, because of his psychological terror. He even has to notice, that his reputation in his neighborhood isn't the same he build up years ago...
Review: "Blood and Bones" is a well done mix of a family drama and some kind of historical epic story.
Nevertheless, the criticism on
nationalistic society in Japan stays on the sideline in this movie. Mainly, the movie is about the
psychological character portrayel Kim Shun-Pei's and his egoism and harshness towards other people. Right from the
beginning Kim solves his problems with violence and provokes the necessity of even more violence. With ruthless
hardness he opresses his family and pushes his employes to do the impossible, so that in the end he indeed manages
to escape poverty. But at what cost? Kim seems to have lost all humanness.
Violence is the predominant motive of this movie. The helplessness of the family against the cruel patriarch is portrayed with lots of scenes of violence, that lack any offbeat choreographies or use of blood. Because of that it creates an even more repressive atmosphere. Kim doesn't only rape his own wife several times, but also knows how to extinguish any rebellion of his children against him with literally an iron hand. Furthermore, the destruction of several furnitures and things in Kim's burst of anger, creates an intensity that lets the viewer nearly feel the violence. The realism director Yoichi Sai creates with such scenes underline the helplessness of the people around Kim, so that you are asking yourself more than once, why nobody is doing something against Kim. But subconsciously you already know the answer. The drama, that takes place in the home of Kim's family is more of psychologocal nature than physical. Opposing the psychological terror, Kim already has implanted as a part of the family, seems to be impossible, because it goes way too deep. The ruthlessness and violence, Kim faces any rebellion with, nips it in the bud.
Surprisingly, the movie doesn't try to justify the motives of Kim's actions, and yet the viewer can't hate him completely. The reason is one significative scene, in which Kim washes and nurses a Japanese woman after she became an invalid. With her he began an affair after he sort of left his wife. Just a small scene, but for a small moment we see a new side of Kim, even though we don't see it anywhere else in the movie. Just for a moment, Kim seems to realize what he never had because of his egoism and tyranny - feelings. Instantly, he surpresses them again with further violence, since he seems incapable of controlling his emotions...
Violence is isolating - that's the message "Blood and Bones" wants to deliver among others, because although the movie tells the whole life story of the Korean immigrant Kim between the years 1923 und 1984, the setting nearly remains unchanged. The wooden huts always remain the same and only some cars that drive through the neighborhood from time to time reflect the actual economic status of the respective decade.
Most likely, the movie also wants to teach us, that the reigning of a tyrant like Kim is only possible, if the rest of the world accepts it or doesn't care. The ghetto-like neighborhood Kim rules with an iron hand seems to be excluded from the rest of the town. Therefore, the movie does not only tell the drama of a family, but also the drama of social exclusion of a minority in Japan.
With intensive scenes and good directing, director Yoichi Sai manages to give the movie its essential credibility, but without the actors the movie would have been just half as good. Every one of them plays his role convincingly, but the person the movie lives off is Takeshi Kitano. That he is one of the top actors (and directors) of Japan we do already know, but his portrayel of Kim Shun-pei outshines all of his previous roles. The violence Kitano expresses in a brilliant manner, as the many little facets of his character are played by him with so much sense of detail - his aging self is also played perfectly - that it is just "fun" to watch.
Unfortunately, the movie also has its downs. Unnecessary to mention that "Blood and Bones" is a difficult movie to watch, nonetheless, some lenghty scenes could have been shortened. At some points the pacing of the movie is even too slow for my taste.
Moreover, I found it difficult to follow the story of the history Japan's, which is mainly, because westerners don't have the necessary background knowledge, the movie at some points takes for granted.
Apart from that, there are also some questions, especially about the how and why, that remain unanswered.
"Blood and Bones" is a recommendable family drama with historic-epic influence and a touch of social criticism. Takeshi Kitano in his best form and the interesting topic of the movie are definite pros. You just should be aware, that Yoichi Sai's work is no mind candy.