Friday, 26 January 2007

Movie Impressions: Sonatine

Sonatine is the third 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano movie that I have seen. It shares thematic and cinematic similarities with 'Hana-Bi' (Fireworks) and 'Brother', even though both of those were made after his near-death experience in a motorcycle accident that film critics claim mark a division in his movie themes.

If I had to compare them, I'd say that 'Sonatine' was more accessible than 'Hana-Bi' and more coherent and emotionally compelling than 'Brother'. On its own terms, I would say its brilliant.

There's a beauty to Kitano's visual compositions, an unsettling quality to his drawn-out close-ups of emotionless faces and a powerful resonance to the punctuation of long, sedate, contemplative sequences with shattering moments of violence.

The outbreaks of violence are not the carefully choreographed, spectacularly shot ballets of blood and bullets, flames and carnage that we have come to associate with action movies, nor are they dwelt upon with a journalistic eye, recording for the audience death in all its awful glory. Instead the scenes are messy, shabby, and confusing as almost comically stiff figures cramped for room fall away in an instant, expiring with ignominious sounds and in unflattering postures. Surely there is no less 'cool' shoot-out scene in gangster cinema than the shoot-out in the elevator in Sonatine? Two characters who we have become attached to through the previous hour or so expire in moments. We blink, their friend doesn't as he continues to shoot at their assailants. A moment later, the carnage in the elevator is left behind. That's that.

Because of the nature of the film, perhaps the violence comes to dominate the rest of the movie in one's mind, even though the barest fraction of the movie has violence in it. But if there is a scene where it captures the heart, it takes place on the beach.... Perhaps where Sonatine most confounds expectations, is that for almost half its length, its about a bunch of gangsters hanging out and amusing themselves at the beach... the title of the movie might just as well be yakuza beach trip... days of gorgeous sunshine shining on lush-green grass-covered hills overlooking white beaches roll one into the other as 5 yakuza gangsters hang out at a traditional beach house. They play frisbee, wear tropical hawain shirts, read comics, make a cardboard wrestling game, and once they tire of that they have mock sumo fights and dress up as geisha and try and dance after dinner. They play tricks on each other, play with fireworks... they are boys having fun at the beach, while all the time death's shadow looms over the proceedings, as their suspicions that they have been double-crossed grow and eventually turn out to be true.

But that is typical Kitano's style. The marriage of contemplation and action; an all-encompassing restraint which occasionally slips its leash. In 'Fireworks', the scenes of domestic comfort (bliss seems too strong a word for what Kitano's character and his terminally-ill wife share together in their understated Japanese way... comfort may be the better word) are punctuated, almost like fireworks going off, by the violence of attempts on his life by his yakuza pursuers. But ultimately, Kitano allows us to understand that it is we ourselves who are fireworks, our lives the briefest of moments in eternity where we can hope to bloom into something beautiful... Sonatine perhaps shares some of that philosophy, though from a slightly different angle. In many ways the yakuza, with their straight-laced, emotionless faces as they pursue their predestined roles are stand ins for the soulless suits of corporate Japan. Only when they put aside their prescribed roles and suits and go play and horse around on the beach does their warmth and humanity come out. Only then do we connect with them as people, and only then do they connect with each other.


No comments: