Sonatine Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

Japanese cult actor/director "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, well-known in Japan for his violent crime dramas, with names such as "Violent Cop" and "Boiling Point", has often been hailed as Japan's answer to John Woo (you may remember him in that good-example-of-your-hard-tax-dollars-at-work "Johnny Mnemonic", where he played the stereotypical evil Japanese character). "Sonatine", which he wrote, directed, and played the lead role, is the story of a Yakuza leader sent to stop a turf war in Okinawa. However, things go wrong and a shoot-out erupts. Kitano escapes with some of his men, and they lie low, enjoying their last days frolicking on a beach. Though Kitano wishes to leave the Yakuza life behind, he knows that circumstances and obligations make that impossible.

Whereas John Woo uses choreographed violence in his movies, putting the audience amidst the action with extensive use of dolly-shots, zooms, and Penckinpah slo-mo, Kitano prefers to focus on the reaction to violence, portraying it as an abrupt shock, dissociated from normal reality. He uses a static camera, using the landscape of the beach as a serene backdrop for the violent deaths of Kitano's gang. These deaths are treated almost clinically, with the victims lined up in front of the camera before being shot, with barely a flinch in reaction to their own deaths-- not your typical death scene in a gangster movie.

The ending leaves much to be desired. Though the film builds up to a big shoot-out, it is presented in the emotionally-detached Kitano-style. We see Kitano enter the building where his bosses are with an M-16. The camera remains on the street and we see the gun battle on the top floor of the building, represented only by the flash of gunfire which is seen through the windows.

This film was originally released in 1993 and Miramax has been debating whether or not to release it theatrically. However, you will be able to find the import video in some video stores. Artfully directed, this film may appeal to those not traditionally attracted to the gangster genre. However, fans of the action movie who are expecting John Woo are best looking elsewhere.

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