Although Outrage, aka Autoreiji was made in 2010, the sequel, Beyond Outrage did not get made until 2012; now Takeshi Kitano is back in this brilliant Yakuza sequel. Kitano wrote and directed both films under the Kitano banner and he reprises his role as Otomo, the lethal underboss in the original film.
Zatoichi is a Japanese “anti-hero” popular in their culture. No less than 26 films have been made featuring Zatoichi and a long running television show which aired 100 episodes. Part of the Zatoichi legend is his ability to win at gambling as he can hear the dice. He also gives massages, plays music and sings, and practises acupuncture.
Zatoichi even got the Hollywood remake treatment in 1990. The 17th film in the series was remade with Rutger Hauer playing a blind swordsman. Titled Blind Fury, it wasn’t a bad film. I watched it before I had even heard of Zatoichi and thought at the time it was marvellous. Of course, I am a huge Rutger Hauer fan, so that may explain a lot.
Takeshi Kitano adapted the screenplay of his version of Zatoichi. He also directed and edited the film. Kitano’s version is musical. Not in the classic sense, you won’t find samurai suddenly bursting into song a la The Sound of Music. But the film itself is musical.
The rain makes a musical sound as it falls and drips off objects. The villagers working in the fields make a rhythmic noise as they collect vegetables and weed their plants. This pattern of music making does not over indulge or become obtrusive. It is noticeable mainly when there are scenes with no dialogue. Sound is amplified when, we the audience, hear things from Zatoichi’s point view, so to speak.
The battles (which Takeshi wanted to be choreographed as realistically as possible) where the blind man takes his sword cane out to fight, have sword slices and cuts that are louder than usual, as if we are hearing it as Zatoichi is. The blood was “overly” CG’d at Kitano’s request. He felt the audience needed a bit of relief from the brutal nature of the battles and the high body count.
Zatoichi discovers a small mountain village that is being ruled by a powerful yakuza gang. They moved into the village and killed the “legal” rich landowner who was the villager’s protector and employer. The gang bully and terrorize the small village. Then Zatoichi arrives and starts carving his way through the yakuza gang. The leaders of the gang employ a Ronin to be their body-guard.
Ronin were samuai without a leader. Their lord and master is either dead or has no need of their services. Ronin roamed the countryside selling their sword skills to the highest bidder. Takeshi Kitano wisely chose Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano to play the ronin Hattori Gennosuke. Asano has been described as the Japanese Johnny Depp. He is a versatile and brilliant actor who has made the cross to Hollywood, working on Thor, Battleship and Thor: The Dark World (due for release in 2013). Credited with 82 films as an actor and three films as a director, Asano is perhaps best known for his over-the-top S&M villain from Ichi the Killer.
The fight between Zatoichi and Gennosuke is long, brutal and brilliant. It was also a nod to Asano’s role in Ichi the Killer, as Zatoichi is also referred to as “Ichi” in the series of films about the blind swordsman.
There is a sub-plot about two beautiful geisha (one of whom is a man) who play music and sing before they murder their rich clients. They are on a revenge mission as it was their family who were murdered by the yakuza gang who took over the village.
Beat Takeshi‘s Zatoichi is a big budget affair that at last count pulled in over 32 million dollars at the box office. It won the Silver Palm Award and Cannes and has done very well in the home rental department. The film features Takeshi’s low key and, sometimes, slapstick humour that is his trademark. One scene in particular sums up the humour of Beat Takeshi.
The village idiot (or simpleton) likes to dress up as a samurai warrior and “train.” This consists of running around his ramshackle shed of a house yelling at the top of his lungs. This if funny enough (as he does it through a good portion of the film) but add Zatoichi into the scene and it becomes hysterically funny. I won’t spoil the scene for you, just watch it and see.
The film looks beautiful and has Kitano’s stamp all over it. As he edits his own films, he puts his personal touch and rhythm to ease film he does. The colours are sumptuous and the lighting is spot on. The blood is all CG. As explained before, he wanted the blood to be very intrusive. In his words to the special effects department he wanted the blood to, “look like flowers blossoming across the screen.”
I have watched Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi repeatedly and find something new in it each time I view it. I would highly recommend that you watch it; if for no other reason than to enjoy Beat Takeshi’s version of this popular and classic Japanese character.
- Hana-bi (1997) Takeshi Kitano’s Bittersweet Romance (mikesfilmtalk.com)
- Outrage (mrmovietimes.com)
- Rutger Hauer and Zatoichi both unavailable for comment (jwz.org)
- For a “Silent War” there is sure a lot of noise. The Silent War (2012). (jpfmovies.wordpress.com)
- Mini-review: Battle Royale Collection (geekbychoice.wordpress.com)
- Angry mobster looms large over politicians (japantimes.co.jp)
- Havana Film Festival to Honor Masters of World Cinema (repeatingislands.com)
Apart from Battle Royale (released in 2000 and directed by Kinji Fukasaku) Takeshi Kitano aka Beat Takeshi has never been better. Written, directed and edited by Beat hana-bi (translates as fireworks) is another facet of his view on crime and the penalty it exacts from its participants.
Hana-bi is a slow ballad of a film. It has a relentless rhythm from the very first frame. I have titled my review a “Bittersweet Romance” but in terms of the overall film, it really is more of a romantic tragedy. Either way you want to describe the film would fit, but I’ve always felt that romance was the ruling factor of the film.
With Beat Takeshi’s character, Nishi and his wife Myuki (Kayoko Kishimoto) their double tragedy [the death of their 5-year-old daughter and Myuki’s dying from leukaemia] is not enough to defeat the obvious love that they have for one another. Their humour has managed to survive the battering that their life has taken. Late in the film, Nishi sets up a camera on the side of their car to take a timed picture. Just as the camera takes their photo another car drives in between them and it. Their laughter over the incident feels infectious and genuine.
The vast majority of the film is a mixture of flash backs and “present day” which works very well. You do have to pay attention though or you can get a bit lost. But regardless of the “to-ing and fro-ing” of the sequences the rhythm of the film is still relentless.
And relentless describes Nishi’s life perfectly. He has so many plates spinning at once that it’s easy to see why his character rarely says anything; but having said that, it is a trait of Beat Takeshi characters in almost all of his films. His taciturn and stoic face with its tics and mannerisms says more in repose than he could ever say literally.
Nishi’s boss and best friend Horibe (played by Takeshi regular Ren Ohsugi) is shot and paralysed when he does Nishi’s stake-out duty so Nishi can visit his wife in hospital. Noribe then has a difficult time dealing with life in a wheel chair and takes up art as a therapy measure.
When Nishi and two detectives catch the villain who shot Horibe, Nishi is punched repeatedly in the face and thrown off the suspect. Kudoh and Nakamura (played by another Takeshi regular Susumu Terajima) jump on the yakuza to restrain him. The yakuza then shoots both Kudoh and Nakamura. Nakamura is wounded but Kudoh dies on the scene. Nishi takes his service revolver out and shoots the yakuza in the head.
He then goes over to the dead yakuza and empties his revolver into the dead man’s head. This results in Nishi getting fired from the force. Already in debt to a local yakuza gang because of loans he took out for his wife’s hospital bills and their daughter’s death, Nishi decides to rob a bank to set everything right. He takes his dying wife on a holiday, pays for Horibe’s painting supplies and gives Kudoh’s widow a huge sum of money.
Since the pervading mood of the film is its relentless nature, we know that Nishi is going to pay dearly for his generosity and his guilt.
Most of Beat Takeshi’s films feature a lone character that doesn’t conform or sets himself away from other’s. His characters always have a nasty end or at the very least a short violent one. His message seems to be that it is alright to live to your own rules and ideals, but it will cost you in the end.
All of Takeshi’s films feature a lot of shots of the sea. Hana-bi features a lot of scenes by the sea and focuses on the waves beating against the shore or the tide coming in. This again points the film’s theme toward relentlessness and he appears to be drawing a parallel between the never-ending waves and the theme of the film.
The art that Horibe paints and draws in the film were all done by Beat Takeshi himself. Some of the most emotional scenes come from Horibe studying flowers in a shop and “seeing” the pictures that he will draw in his mind. Dogs with sunflowers for heads are just some of the funny, and odd, images he creates.
If ever any one man could be deemed an institution Takeshi Kitano is that man. The running joke in Japan’s entertainment industry is that Beat Takeshi is on television 8 days a week. Takeshi does have several television shows, writes articles for many different publications and writes, directs, and edits his own films. There seems to be no end to this man’s talent pool.
In August of 1994 Kitano was in an accident while riding his moped. The crash almost killed him and left his face partially paralysed. As part of his therapy he took up painting and poetry. By 1995 he was back to work full-time.
Beat Takeshi is an amazing individual who rose from humble beginnings to become an institution and an icon of Japanese culture. In the England people watch Takeshi’s Castle a Japanese game show that Beat shows up for at the end of each program to “fight off” winning contestants to keep them from winning the ultimate prize. Most of the viewers (and apparently the producers and the narrator of the show) have no idea who Takeshi is.
Hana-bi is always mentioned as the last in a trilogy that Takeshi helmed for himself. Violent Cop (1989), Sonatine (1993) and Hana-bi (1997) all feature a character who marches to the “beat” of his own drum and is more than happy to pay the price required to do so.
If I could equate Beat Takeshi’s acting style to anyone from the western world of cinema, I’d say he is the Japanese Spencer Tracy. But that would be in the area of acting alone, I honestly don’t think there is anyone in the industry who equates 100 percent to Takeshi Kitano.
If you can stand to sit through the subtitles, watch this film. The translated title of Fireworks might be easier to find, but whatever title it’s being sold or rented as, it’s worth watching.
- Angry mobster looms large over politicians (japantimes.co.jp)
- Takeshi about co-starring with Kimura Takuya: “I look like an extra” (jenewsdaily.wordpress.com)
- Variety Show Round-up – 10-01 to 10-14 (tylerraiz.wordpress.com)
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.
- Entertainment › ‘Beat’ Takeshi rejects anti-gay accusation (japantoday.com)
- Entertainment › Kitano quips ‘Outrage Beyond’ could have been ‘Outrage Beyonce’ (japantoday.com)
- Movie Review: ‘Battle Royale,’ Directed by Kinji Fukasaku (movies.nytimes.com)