Jun 7, 2011


I'd like to start this review of one of Takeshi Kitano's indisputable masterpieces with a quote from prolific French actor Alain Delon -- "this is not an actor [...], he only got three facial expressions and he almost doesn't talk on top of this". This, of course, is an indirect retaliation towards a recommendation from a French publisher. You would think Delon would know something about the beauty of stoicism, if harnessed correctly, and Kitano is indeed an expert in his craft of cruelty. Words like these bring about an image of immaturity. Something you can recall faintly on a recess yard, something that conjures mental remnants of runny noses, tattletales, and soiled jeans. The error in part of Delon's was not to rival Kitano's picture, which may or may not have offended his delicate and pampered sensibilities, but the lack of effort on his part to embrace something that switches between cold and warm on a whim. What I am referring to is Kitano's excellent chemistry with the camera. Sonatine is one of many masterpieces that Kitano himself wrote and directed. Taking a natural and personal turn in utilizing stoic suicide as the centerpiece, Sonatine marks the film before his near-fatal motorcycle accident that Kitano himself referred to as an "unconscious suicide attempt". This, no doubt, can be partially blamed on the incredibly bleak and nihilistic atmosphere of his earlier pictures. Continuing on, Sonatine is a scrapbook of the best and the worst of what life has to offer - a stunning collaboration between the warm embrace of life and the fleeting triumph of death.


Sonatine concerns its pivotal character Murakawa and his ever-increasing dread. A ruthless and emotionless Yakuza, Murakawa and his gang are sent to the tropical island of Okinawa to mediate between two warring clans. Knowing better, Murakawa senses danger, a waft of betrayal. Sure enough, Murakawa and his gang are ambushed and having nowhere else to go, retreat to a seaside cabin and spend their time exploring the inner reaches of playfulness - successfully rekindling a comfort that they had long since forgotten. Essentially, Sonatine is about men regressing back into boyhood, the polar opposite of your standard coming-of-age story. Sonatine takes this formula and rewinds it, thus making it a point to connect with our inner child instead of aggressively chasing after dreams of mortgage, responsibility, and the ever-looming presence of total and utter detachment. Murakawa experiences this the most out of all his fellow criminals. Seen earlier on, resulting in the life of a rival, Murakawa now spends his time playfully bantering with a woman he rescued from a rape situation and engaging in activities that border on both extremes, e.g. a game of fortified roman candle warfare turns sharply as Murakawa smiles and unloads his weapon in the general vicinity of his rival team, still his own men, mind you. Another example would be the game of William Tell quickly turned even more sinister with Murakawa's implementation of Russian Roulette rules mixed with a splendid game of Rock-paper-scissors. 

Suits are abandoned for Hawaiian shirts, past discrepancies are wiped away - all that is left in Sonatine is a group of kids with weapons. Contrast that with both Kitano and Murakawa's wavering will to live and you have a poetic piece of self-doubt and what was once imprinted on celluloid, will now be imprinted upon your memory banks. Kitano is an accomplished actor and a cultural icon, one of which you have seen before. Either the uncultured in film will recognize him from the likes of MXC or Johnny Mnemonic or ones suited to Japanese cinema will recognize him from Battle Royale, Izo, or any of his sobering directorial efforts, such as his debut film, Violent Cop. Sonatine also happens to be influenced by Sympathy for the Underdog, directed by Kinji Fukasaku, the director of Battle Royale and a portion of Battle Royale II (before his passing). This might be in part to Fukasaku's backing out of directing Violent Cop originally. Kitano just so happened to pick up the project and severely rewrite the script, thus equating in the masterwork that is "up there" with the gloomiest motion pictures in existence. It is the touch that Kitano presents that takes his films from the ordinarily twisted into such an extreme and intimate nature. And as I mentioned before, the profound impact isn't from the spent shell casings clattering on the floor nor the projectiles ejected from the weapon, it's the unflinching eye of Kitano's, evident in any scene of violence that he himself partakes in. It's the smile he bares on occasion and it's the beauty and honor of his bloodshed.

The finale of Sonatine is of grave importance to Murakawa's condition. After watching his men get picked off one by one, it stands a silence that is hardly a whisper. Murakawa must act now. Not only has he been betrayed for greed and his men left to die, the principal of such is nonexistent. Murakawa isn't a good man, he is a cold killer, but honor has been a constant in Japanese society, and so Murakawa must persist. Sonatine is Kitano's career paradoxically perfected - a tender assault on the senses. The breadth of his visual lyricism is compelling and the classical soundtrack is a beaut. Sonatine channels light and dark exquisitely and creates characters so temperamental, brash, and endearing that as they drop like flies, you can't help but to focus on the better times and withhold moments of vulnerability, as per Murakawa's hardened behavioral traits. This is largely evident in a scene in which Murakawa, resting peacefully and hidden by the hull of a beached boat, stares at the horror-stricken face of a comrade as he receives a bullet directly in his forehead. Sonatine promises to assuage any and all desires for explicable artistry in film. It is the peak of Kitano's directing career and bittersweet to the very last frame. Kitano's acting style may seem odd to the third party audience member but when examined at a closer distance, becomes something that no one has ever achieved before - a keen ability to smile in the face of death. Sonatine is perfect.



eddie lydecker said...

Takeshi Kitano has sited "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" as being one of his favorite films, perhaps its time you reveiwed that film, after all its the only one of his films that Peckinpah had complete artistic control over and is regarded by a lot of people (although admittedly not by everyone) as his supreme masterwork.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Just going back to February 1st and that superb tribute to Heather that you did to commemorate the 23rd Anniversary of her death, Friday will be the 23rd Anniversary of the release of Poltergeist 3 in North America (June 10th 1988), i was just wondering if you could post another one of your favorite pictures of her here on Friday just to show some respect once again, Thanks i`d really appreciate it, although this time lets not spoil it with any pansy queer or British dog-shit OK, this time let it be "ALL HEATHER" if you get my drift, i know for instance that there are quite a few pictures of her out there where the little darlin` is just wearing a rather skimpy bathing costume...wow...WOW.

otis rampaging heterosexuality said...

Of course what spoils "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" for me is that Robert Webber and Gig Young played faggots in the film, although i`m pretty certain that they were both completely heterosexual in real life so that makes it a bit easier to deal with.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Co-incidentally they just reveiwed "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" over at "Quiet Cool" (superbly i might add), now i`m looking forward to your take on that movie even more (if indeed you do decide to reveiw it at some point in the future), there really is something strangely magical and cultish about Sam Peckinpah's 1973 haunting, edgy, cult item "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia".By the way, make sure you stay right to the end of the titles at the end of the movie because only then do you finally see the title of the movie on screen, and as acompanied by Jerry Goldsmiths (please forgive him for being a Jew, just this once) incredibly poignant music it becomes one of the most heart-rending endings in the history of cinema (although really we`re crying for Isela Vega's character not Warren Oates). mAQ or Ty E tackling "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" on Soiled Sinema, thats gonna` be an internet "EVENT" that i`m really looking forward to.