Written, directed and edited by Takeshi Kitano, Brother opened to mixed reviews. Filmed in Los Angeles it was Takeshi’s first and last attempt at breaking into the American film market. Kitano also stars in the film (as Beat Takeshi).
The film has a fine array of actors in it. Omar Epps (perhaps better known to audiences for his work on the TV program House), Ryo Ishibashi (Audition, Suicide Club, The Grudge 2), and the usual array of Kitano regulars - Ren Ohsugi and Susumu Terajima just to name two.
Brother is another variation of Kitano’s many films that deal with the Yakuza. This theme is prevalent in almost all his films. Most of the character’s he portrays in his films are violent, individualistic and yet still childlike. Almost all the Yakuza characters he portrays die by the end of the film.
In Brother Kitano plays Aniki Yamamoto an enforcement officer of a Yakuza gang. When his boss is killed by a rival gang, Yamamoto must merge with the new gang or die. He chooses to exile himself rather than join the gang who killed his boss. As a going away present his old gang sets him up with a forged identity and a gym bag full of money.
He travels to Los Angeles to live with his half-brother Ken (Claude Maki). On the way he bumps into Denny (Omar Epps) one of Ken’s gang members causing Denny to drop a bottle of wine. While Denny is winding himself up to attack Aniki, he picks up the broken bottle and stabs Denny in the face with it. He then punches Denny in the stomach and leaves him lying on the side walk.
When Yamamoto findly finds Ken he also finds out that Denny is his brother’s best friend. In a very short time, Denny becomes friends with Aniki and the two are practically inseparable. Throughout the film Denny and Aniki gamble against each other, with Aniki cheating where ever he can to win. They begin to bond even more.
Ken is pretty small potatoes in LA and after he has an altercation with a rival gang. Aniki sets out to help him broaden the gang’s horizons. After Aniki single handedly kills every member of the rival gang, they all hole up at Ken’s place expecting a reprisal from the other gang’s partners.
While they are waiting for retribution one of Aniki’s old Yakuza gang members and friend Kato (Susumu Terajima) shows up at Ken’s door and gets a gun butt to the head from Aniki who was expecting someone else. Aniki tells the now prostrate Kato, “I’m at war in America too.” With Kato’s help Aniki sets in motion plans for their little gang to grow.
Ken and his fellow gang members learn that Aniki and Kato are extremely ruthless and violent men who treat death like a joke. With Yamamoto staking out new turf for the gang to take over, and merging with other Asian gangs, Ken, Kato and Aniki become too powerful for the Mafia to ignore.
The gang become so powerful that they have an entire building for their headquarters with the top floor as the main office complete with an indoor basketball hoop. They have their own accountant and solicitor and are trying to branch out even further.
When the Mafia decide the gang has gotten too big, they start killing gang members off one at a time.
Brother is violent, the body count by the end of the film is seventy-eight. But for all it’s bloodshed, it is filled with the typical Takeshi Kitano trademark humour and his character’s childlike delight at the pathos he causes. Although this is not considered by many, including Takeshi himself, to be one of his better films, it is still worth watching.
And if you’ve never seen any of his films before, Brother is a good introduction to ‘Beat Takeshi’ and his films.
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