Dir. by Takeshi Kitano
Rated MA
Currently screening at Dendy Martin Place and Verona Cinemas

Hana-Bi translates in Japanese to Fireworks, yet the explosions in Takeshi Kitano's new film are delayed and ruptured, infused with sadness. In his previous film, Kids Return, Kitano explored the relationship between two high school friends, and the drama played itself out overtly with dramatic conclusions and violent payoffs. Here Kitano has pared down his art to a strict rational, a plan of astonishing lucidity and sparsity. The film, a story of a man assailed with debt, guilt and the boundaries of time, comes together with such ease that odd scenes and impenetrably quiet moments become part of the intricate construction, and we never question what unravels before us.

Kitano, as Nishi, is a tired and dutiful man, yet one capable of great violence. For a film that displays so much death the participants are fundamentally detached from the event itself, fed up with it, so that the events appear to us as totally removed from notions of cause and effect. He beats a man for making a light joke at his wifes expense, his body expending energy ever so slightly, enough perhaps for the task at hand and nothing else. So many scenes of violence are random and repetitive, emphasising the banality of the acts themselves. Kitano beats the Yakuza away until they start shooting, and then he shoots back with precision. Kitano plays out his role of the passionless, violent cop Nishi with the resigned acceptance of Basho: "Wake, butterfly - it's late, we've got miles to go together". When he films violence, his camera moves are simple and plain, editing offering nothing but classical shot reverse shot, the fate of faces. When he stabs a Yakuza thug in the eye with a chopstick, we don't get the expected payoff of a gory close-up , but merely three seconds of the other gangsters face. It could have been me. Only in the emotional build-up and aftermath of violence do the aesthetics of the film announce itself. The entire film operates on the principle that violence is a genuine disruption, despair unrestrained and unwelcomed. Kitano, working with the typical story of a cop, makes violence the worst thing that can happen, yet is still aware of the path he must take it. The film becomes increasingly silent and mysterious. The film does not open itself to reveal Nishi (how could any artist explain such a man?) but gradually closes in on itself, becoming increasingly singular and focused. The final act is horrible yet impossible to escape from.

The beauty of the film, and what gives you a sense of transcendence with the piece overall is that Kitano integrates the paradoxes and comprimises of life into his film. What he catches in an austere and distanced way is the dynamism of existence and the sadness of being, the hope and despair splashed suddenly with red paint, suicide. When the wheelchair bound officer looks at his wheels moored in the wet sand, it is a stunning visual translation of Auden's classic lines ("O plunge your hands in water, Plunge them in up to the wrist; Stare, stare in the basin/ And wonder what you've missed"). The whole film works at this level of cool efficiency. Leaving the cinema, the experience and sensations felt cannot be expressed in words. You clutch at knowingly hackneyed phrases, cheap comparisons and unworthy hyperbole. Only after a few days, do things connect and become reconciled. You are assailed by a film that is screaming into a void, and you realise you will wake up tomorrow and...well, whatever.

Kitano slumped in a chair, listening to the faint voice of a widow, that body of seemingly eternal suspension. His facial twitch as he sits by his paralysed friend. The paintings of animals with floral faces, so naive and pure. When the girl by the beach asks Nishi to hold her kite, she runs on hoping it will rise skyward, and he instead holds the kite and it tears, its cheap frame remaining in his hands. The bastard.

adam rivett
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