Posted by martinteller on June 17, 2012
Kitano’s existentialist take on the yakuza flick. Most gangster movies focus on the struggle to survive in a world of ruthless violence. Kitano goes a step in a different direction, showing what makes survival worthwhile. The brutal dealings of the criminal underworld barely register on Murakawa’s face, who maintains a blank expression whether his colleagues are being killed, or he’s orchestrating the killing, or even when he does the killing himself. It’s not even “just a job” to him, it’s less than that. It’s as commonplace as tying your shoes or opening your mail.
What does elicit some semblance of a reaction are the playful antics that he and his crew indulge in on the beach, goofing around while waiting for the next move. Some of these games have an undercurrent of violence to them as well — sumo wrestling, bottle rocket battles, digging sand traps – but it’s a neutered violence, almost mocking the cold-hearted viciousness of their work. These scenes are the most beautiful in the film, long and lingering and full of life, contrasted with the lightning-quick flashes of violence (no slo-mo bullet ballets to be seen here). It makes their inevitable deaths felt all the deeper, with so much to lose.
Though I still consider it the best I’ve seen by Kitano, I’m slightly less taken with the film than I was the first time. Actually I think my feelings are probably the same, I was just a touch too generous with the rating. I don’t get the sense that there’s tremendous depth here, but it is a sometimes poetic meditation, enhanced by terrific moments of humor (both gentle and black) and fine stylization, including a nice score. Kitano’s performance is quite magnetic as well. Rating: Very Good