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  Sonatine Give The Boys A Holiday
Year: 1993
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Stars: Takeshi Kitano, Aya Kokumai, Tetsu Watanabe, Masanobu Katsumara, Susumu Terajima, Ren Osugi, Tonbo Zushi, Ken'ichi Yajima, Eiji Minakata, Hiroshi Ando, Takeshi Fukazawa, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Yoichi Nagai, Yuuki Natsusaka, Yutaka Tomi
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Aniki Murakama (Takeshi Kitano) is a yakuza who is growing tired of the life of crime, no matter the benefits it has offered him throughout his life. What to do when one faction is disrespecting another, and the businesses that used to pay up and supply his income are no longer so accommodating? The most obvious method for him and his cohorts is to use violence, so he beats up the rival gang representative and sets about making an example of the most prominent businessman to cross him by tying him up, hanging him from a crane and dunking him in the river until he drowns (it takes three minutes, rather than the two Murakama originally estimated). But trouble will follow...

Sonatine was writer, director, editor and star Takeshi Kitano's third movie at the helm and proved the one critics were most receptive to thanks to its gear changes and reflective qualities that became more apparent as the story went on. It did not please every audience, however, as marketed as an action flick it was almost perversely avoiding anything pulse-pounding, so any thrills would be on the level of intellectual stimulation, no matter how violent the actions of the characters would become. What was most likeable about it was that the violence faded out in the middle section, to be replaced by a gentle humour that was almost wacky in its delivery, before it returned later on.

If you had seen Takeshi's previous films, you would be better prepared: the tone almost always described as "deadpan", despite the amount of times the star would crack a smile or laugh, the bursts of realistic and abrupt bloodshed, the sense of humour that would be difficult to spot had you not been primed to expect a comedy of the most singular kind. That affection for some of the characters who demonstrated the strangest behaviour, the iconoclasts within a social stricture that proved them the rebels, be that the police or the criminals, were what he appeared to admire the most, leaving an impression not immoral, exactly, more forgiving for those as eccentric as he was.

Of course, laughter may be a reasonable response to Sonatine, but it was worth remembering in light of its denouement that Takeshi attempted suicide after making it, which meant this was a film crafted by a man in a very dark place in his mind. Bearing that mental state in your thoughts, a definite strain of melancholy was clear throughout the film, as if pointing out that no matter how you can lighten your mood with a joke, a jape, an instance of being downright silly, you must always reckon with the issue that life is not going to be amenable to such levity all the way through, and here you may be forced to observe that all the chuckles in the world are not going to keep you from your bleaker moments, or indeed the final countdown towards your own inevitable demise, not necessarily at your own hand.

Yes, there was a lot to mull over in this, but rather than take away the grimmest message imaginable, there was a move to accept yes, there are terrible things in life, but there are also aspects that contrast with the bad, and those are what you should latch onto to keep yourself going as long as you feel able. The yakuza under Murakama are not nice people, neither is he, but when they are lying low at the beach as the gang war escalates, they have such a lot of fun, and the previously awful antihero opens up to a romance with a woman he rescues from a rape attempt which in a strange way makes him positively friendly. Now we have seen he and his cohorts arseing about by the seaside in a rather hilarious manner, we feel a lot more warmly towards them, despite knowing of their dreadful behaviour, and it was that tension, knowing the gangsters' capacity for decency, even goofiness, and also their looming return to violence, that served up some of the most striking mixed feelings in cinema. Music by Joe Hisaishi.

[This is included on The Takeshi Kitano Collection from the BFI, a three Blu-ray set packed with extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Takeshi Kitano  (1947 - )

Japanese director/actor/writer/comedian and one of the best-known entertainers in Japan. Entered showbiz in the early 70s as a stand-up comic, and began acting in the early 80s, his most famous early role being in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. As a director, Kitano's debut was 1989's Violent Cop, a gritty police thriller. The success of this led Kitano to explore similar cop/gangster territory in films like Boiling Point, Sonatine and the award-winning Hana-bi, all of which combined graphic violence, intense drama and off-beat comedy, while Kitano's more light-hearted side was revealed in the likes of the sex comedy Getting Any?, the autobiographical Kids Return and the whimsical Kikujiro.

If 2000's US-set Brother was a disappointment and Dolls visually stunning but hard-going, 2003's Zatoichi was a fast-moving, blood-splattered samurai romp. After a run of personal, financially unsuccessful art films, he returned to familiar territory with the Outrage series. As an actor, Kitano (credited as 'Beat' Takeshi, his comedy-persona) has appeared in films including Battle Royale, Gonin, Johnny Mnemonic, Gohatto and Takashi Miike's IzĂ´.

 
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