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Sonatine (1993): The Evolution of the Yakuza Thriller

Sonatine (Takeshi Kitano, 1993)

 

photo credit: Wikipedia

While uncredited, the fish does play a major role.

While Takeshi Kitano has worked in any number of genres over the years, when it came to directing, he started with the yakuza film. Many great Japanese directors do (Takashi Miike was getting his start directing V-cinema yakuza flicks around the same time Kitano started, for example). But in front of the camera, Kitano had already spent years as a sketch comedian. It was inevitable that eventually these two disciplines would cross in his work. It ended up not taking long at all; Sonatine, Kitano’s fourth picture, blends action and absurd in such a way as to have become a favorite of many of Kitano’s fans.

photo credit: fewrandomrantings.wordpress.com

Sumo on the beach!

Aniki Murakawa (Kitano) is a Tokyo-based yakuza who runs an inept, but lucrative, gang. Their boss sends the whole crew to Okinawa on what seems to be a routine mission—but when they get there, they find out it’s anything but routine and suspect they’ve been set up. Wounded, the gang retire to a local deserted beach to lay low, heal, and plot their revenge. On their first night there, Aniki rescues beautiful, naïve Miyuki (Aya Kokumai in her screen debut) from an assailant, and for a time, the cares of the world slip away, and the beach hideaway becomes a world apart…but revenge is always knocking on the door.

photo credit: lovehkfilm.com

These guys could have come straight out of a Guy Ritchie movie. (I’m convinced Sonatine was a major influence on him.)

This should be obvious, but it seems to have not been for some people: this is not a typical gangster movie, any more than the gangster movies of Kitano’s idol Jean-Luc Godard were actually gangster movies. If you go into this expecting endless gunplay, you’re going to hate it. The core of the film is the time the characters spend at the beach; the yakuza stuff surrounding it is a frame. (Compare and contrast to Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, to which this film is an homage, or one of Miike’s best efforts, The Bird People in China, which cleaves to the same theme.) It’s not about action, it’s about soul-searching and redemption and all that stuff that features so prominently in Kitano’s comedic films (Kikujiro is an obvious choice here, and Achilles and the Tortoise is another qualifier). And if you go into it looking for THAT, you’re going to get much more out of it. Personally, I think it’s a wonderful thing indeed, and recommend it without hesitation, though it’s not as good as Kikujiro. *** ½

 

Trailer. I relented and gave you Engsubs on this one.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Samaria (Samaritan Girl) (2004): A Dreamer of Pictures, I Run in the Night | Popcorn for Breakfast

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