Year of Release: 1997
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Screenplay: Takeshi Kitano
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima
Running Time: 103 minutes
Genre: Crime drama
Nishi (Kitano) is an ex police officer whose daughter is dead and his wife (Kishimoto) is terminally ill. He is also heavily in debt to the yakuza. With options running out, Nishi takes desperate action to get the necessary money to take his wife on one final journey.
Hana-bi (the title translates as Fireworks) is, at first glance, a crime thriller, but in it's approach it is completely different to the conventional cop movie. Takeshi Kitano is a hugely famous comedian and TV show host, before becoming a one of the most internationally acclaimed Japanese film-makers of his generation. He not only wrote, directed and starred in this film, but edited it and painted the artwork that features prominently throughout. Juxtaposing quiet, meditative passages of genuine heart and lyrical beauty with jarring, graphic violence and brutality, this is a film of emotion above all else. The first part of the film uses a complex, fragmented structure, jumping around in time, before settling down to a more conventional linear structure. The main character, Nishi, is calm and seemingly placid for the most part, an enigma who moves slowly and deliberately and who rarely speaks, but is capable of lashing out with sudden and extreme violence at any provocation. However he is also capable of great kindness and affection. Despite the amount of stabbings, shootings and chopsticks being thrust in eyes, this film is full of beautiful images of nature, and a feel for the transitory nature of existence, and the joy and warmth of family and the power of art (a key subplot in the film involves Nishi's disabled, suicidal ex-colleague taking up painting). The scenes with Nishi and his wife touring through Japan are both funny and tender and could probably be enough for a movie on it's own. The film is shot with a largely static camera practically every frame seeming meticulously composed.
This is the first Kitano film that I have seen, although I knew of him of course, and I had seen him in Battle Royale (2000), and I am certainly going to check out more of his work.