Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Takeshi Kitano’s new film is his best since Sonatine. It takes elements from all his previous work (including his recent paintings), combines them in stange and unexpected ways and raises them to a new level. Hana-Bi literally means ‘fireworks’, but Kitano separates it into its constituent parts, ‘hana’ (flower) and ‘bi’ (fire). The implied dichotomy runs all through the film, which is predominantly wistful, lyrical and elegiac, but shot through with spasms of shockingly intense violence, not to mention blasts of black humour.
Kitano plays Nishi, a taciturn cop who is forced to resign from the police after vengefully shooting a cop-killer. His best friend has been crippled by the same villain, and his wife has a terminal illness. And so Nishi robs a bank to provide for his friend and take his wife on one last vacation. Then he sits back and waits for his friend on the force to catch up with him.
Describing Hana-Bi as pure poetry, Variety’s reviewer went on to note that it’s a lyrical, cleansing journey that builds to a soulful conclusion. There’s a masterful balanced marriage of aching tenderness in the serene, gently humourous scenes between Nishi and his wife, and calm, considereed bursts of violence in Nishi’s bloody encounters with the yakuza. Very much a visual film-maker, Kitano conveys a great deal with minimal dialogue. On screen he makes a sublime tough guy, looking ultra-cool behind his shades and never flinching, whether he looks down the barrel of a gun or beating up a hapless passerby who unwisely insults his wife.