Brother review - Movie Criticism by Plume Noire

Brother review

:. Director: Takeshi Kitano
:. Starring: Takeshi Kitano
:. Running Time: 1:54
:. Year: 2000
:. Country: Japan

With Brother Takeshi Kitano (Sonatine, Fireworks) brings his trademark deadpan character to L.A. to teach the rules of crime to petty dealers, while at the same time he gives Hollywood a lesson on Gangster films.

Beat Takeshi plays Yamamoto, a Japanese yakuza who—after his boss is killed—is forced to an exile in Los Angeles where he joins his little brother. There, he will transform his brother and friends' low-scale drug dealing business into a powerful organized crime syndicate.

Contrary to what you might read here and there from those who discovered the Japanese director with the late international success of Fireworks, his new film is in the pure tradition of his earlier work like Violent Cop. Brother is a violent and ruthless gangster film that takes no prisoners. The film doesn't have the lyricism of Sonatine or the poetry of Fireworks. Instead, Kitano focuses on the core of his project: to make a true Gangster film that blends his own style with American movies while staying true to the French film noir genre that inspired him.

For his first foreign effort, the director chose L.A., a city at the center of such classic gangster flicks as Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. But instead of taking advantage of the city's usual clichés, he goes for a more generic American setting. Los Angeles is almost unrecognizable; except for some downtown shots you won't see any of LA's landmarks (Ridley Scott used the same process in Blade Runner). By making his setting nondescript, he declares that this story could happen anywhere in the U.S. One way he does use Los Angeles is for her ethnic melting pot, a large foundation for this film. Yamamoto's gang features Asians, Blacks, Latinos and Americans and is opposed to every other ethnic gang in town. Yamamoto also develops a special bond with an African American, Denny (Omar Epps). They have a brotherly relationship based on mutual respect, a theme central to many of his films. The contrasts between the Japanese and Afro-American cultures provide some good laughs but avoid the usual "fish out of water" jokes. Instead, he places emphasis on how Japanese rules and honor codes influence unorganized Americans while the Japanese are obviously captivated by American culture (basketball, Michael Jordan, gambling,..).

The concept of "brother" is crucial in this film. At one level there is the usual blood relationship to his younger brother. His right-hand man who arrives from Japan to work with him rather than join another gang is another type of brother who personifies a brother in the Yakuza sense of the word. He will give his life to show his devotion. Finally, Yamamoto's relationship with Denny is the one we see flourish and is also fascinating because the concept of brother for both the Japanese and for African Americans works well together. The film would not have been the same if Denny were from Iowa. Also, their totally different personalities work extremely well together and their respect for each other is what makes this movie powerful.

Shooting on American soil is also a way to pay tribute to some Gangster movies that inspired him but that he also inspired. But first Takeshi makes sure to show that this is still his own film despite all the references he makes by playing his recurrent silent and violent character that he usually plays in his films. Just like Clint Eastwood's roles, Takeshi's character is always on the edge between good and evil, justice and crime. There are other typical trademarks of his work, like the extreme and shocking use of violence—sometimes funny in its excess—as well unusual shots like criminals playing and frolicking on the beach.

Around that he builds a story that is a homage to the gangster genre. The theme of a foreigner who comes to America and rises up the criminal hierarchy obviously refers to Scarface, which is confirmed by the ending of the film. Some scenes are also reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, a sly wink to Tarantino who has been inspired both by Asian cinema as well as by Takeshi. Incidentally, Tarantino introduced many in the U.S. to Takeshi's films by releasing a video collection. The director also pays respects to French film noir through his theme of the hero who won't ecape his destiny as well as his use of music. One will notice how he almost gives L.A. a Parisian feel through the use of a jazzy film noir soundtrack. Finally, The Godfather, masterpiece of the genre, is not forgotten. The Italian Mafia will be the only one able to stop him and his gang. As he says with a smile when they go to war against the Italians, "We are all gonna die". Also, the guns hidden in the toilets are a direct reference to Francid Ford Coppola's film.

But Takeshi Kitano doesn't limit himself to mere tributes. He gives Hollywood a lesson by pushing the envelope. While all the movies he refers to have undoubtledly a cult status and were at their time innovative and shocking, they have since become mainstream after being copied so many times by Hollywood geniuses. For example, Eastwood and Tarantino's movies that were ahead of their time are now classics of the genre they created. Contrary to John Woo, who sold out to the American market by softening his style (M:i-2, Face-Off), Kitano pushes violence to the extreme. Instead of making it arty, his vision of violence is more realistic, brutal and cruel but nothing at all of a spectacle. His hero Yamamoto and his enemies are excessive in their use of violence, rendering them identical. Nobody finds redemption, which is totally anathema to Hollywood's rules. Whereas Hollywood films glorify and glamorize violence when used as an instrument of justice, Takeshi puts everybody using it in the same bag. The filmmaker shows the real face of a gangster and a realistic use of violence—just what a groundbreaking Scarface did more than a decade ago.

Kitano's direction alternates between moments of calm, humor and violence. His cinematography follows his characters and develops into quiet pace that emphasizes the force of his character Yamamoto's silence. Thanks to this unhurried pace and well-studied characters he slowly and successfully builds a palpable emotion that ultimately touches the audience in the final scene. The visual poetry seen in Fireworks is gone and has been replaced by the rough edges of Los Angeles. The acting is colorful, thanks to a cast full of contrasts, his own stoned-face character to the likable Omar Epps, while Latinos, Italians, and Asians are all well represented with their ethnicity, humor, respect and racism.

  Fred Thom

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