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Japan 1993


Takeshi Kitano

"Beat" Takeshi Kitano
Tetsu Watanabe
Aya Kokumai
Masanobu Katsumura
Susumu Terajim
Ren Ohsugi
Ken'ichi Yajima
Tonbo Zushi
Eiji Minakata
Hoka Kinoshita
Yuuki Natsusaka

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Story: Murakawa (Takeshi Kitano) has made a name for himself in the yakuza, but at some point he started to get tired of the life of a gangster. However, he can't really think of dropping out and so Murakawa has to get his clan to Okinawa for his boss in order to conciliate two feuding clans. The assignment seems to be a waste of time and only aiming at more or less shifting off Murakawa. How right the yakuza member is with his assumption becomes apparent when he arrives in Okinawa. The conflict between the two parties isn't really anything extraordinary, but with the appearance of Murakawa and his clan things get a bit more serious. The circumstances demand of Murakawa and his subordinates to find shelter at a house near a beach and spend their days there waiting for word from their boss in Tokyo. The gangsters spend a few nice days together and Murakawa even saves a woman from her husband, who from that day on stays with the yakuza. Eventually, it shows that Murakawa's boss is in fact trying to get rid of him and his clan.

Review: Takeshi Kitano is without a doubt an extraordinary filmmaker, who is especially well-received at international film festivals. Maybe you could best describe him as a mix of John Woo and Kim Ki-duk. Almost without an exception violence is standing in the focus of all of his movies. However, what's interesting is the way Kitano portrays it and what kind of reaction his characters show when they are confronted with it. Through bursts of violence that attack the viewer out of the blue director Kitano shows blood and thunder, but it's even more important what impact and emotional blow people are left with because of it. Shock and emotional indifference are the result and so it also proves to be one of the biggest problems in "Sonatine" that the characters are all as if being ethereal and not really part of reality. This makes the movie pretty cold at some points and makes it difficult to care for what fate has in store for the individual characters. Still, it's this aloofness that Kitano actually intends to convey.

"Sonatine" is a yakuza-film, but you shouldn't expect any great shootouts. If it actually comes to one then it is captured in a way typical for Kitano. The gangsters are standing around without even making any move except of tenaciously firing one bullet after another until the enemy or you isn't standing anymore. The protagonists apparently don't care whether they live or die, so why should they take cover and shoot from a more advantageous position? Furthermore, this way Kitano manages to bring violence in a very direct and unadorned manner to the screen. To live or die is nothing more than playing roulette for the yakuza. Therefore, it isn't really surprising that Murakawa often looks like an empty shell. Only deep within there is still something like the hope for a better life, hope that is futile, which he knows better than anyone else.

During a certain scene Murakawa sees one of his subordinates, who is almost somewhat like a friend to him, being shot. He sees this human being dying in front of his very eyes and he doesn't move an inch. Among others because the killer would discover and shoot him as well, but even more importantly because a thick wall around him hinders any kind of emotion getting out. Maybe only his glance can give a hint that something is breaking within more and more. This obvious emotional coldness isn't just to be found with the yakuza, though, but also with the woman that has been saved by Murakawa. Reason for that may be that she had to endure years of violence and abuse (by her husband). The protagonists in "Sonatine" or in Kitano's movies in general share the fact that any kind of emotion has been cauterized.

However, maybe making this statement is taking the easy road which you shouldn't do because especially when the yakuza are awaiting new orders at the beach you get to realize that the gangsters are still carrying a few emotions with them. Some of the games the yakuza are playing are even outright childish and more than anyone else Murakawa looks like a small boy because of the pranks he is pulling. The beach is an idyllic place remote from any obligation that could be bestowed upon them by the world, but even into this room violence is finding its way so that Murakawa loses any doubt about there being no way for reaching salvation. He has simply become tired of life and this is also shown in a very clear dream sequence in which he takes his own life with a smile on his face. Death seems to be the only way out for him of this life full of violence and atrocity of which he is the originator himself on many occasions. For example he is letting someone into the water on a crane until he has drowned. We don't get to see the death struggle of the man. He is just pulled out of the water dead. Violence in its most shocking form.

How exactly are you supposed to have sympathy with a character like this? You can't. But neither Kitano nor Murakawa is expecting that of anyone. And still we are wishing for the yakuza member to somehow find a way out of this vicious circle of violence. If he deserves this is on another page, though. Takeshi Kitano's serene directing, the pictures often look as if being freeze-frames, is as subtle as his acting. You won't find any action here, even the showdown is presented in an extremely unspectacular fashion. The film is instead aiming at a more mature audience that is willing to work with the emotions that you don't get to see. Eventually, you are supposed to wonder why they don't act the way you would expect of any other normal human being. "Sonatine" is a nice drama, which actually is forestalling of what was to come in Kitano's successful movie "Hana-Bi".

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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