“Hana-bi” (Fireworks, 1997, written directed by, edited by and starring Kitano Takeshi, 4 stars) has its longeurs, punctuated by savage outbursts of violence with a bass line of anguish as Yoshitaka Nishi (Kitano), still mourning the death of his daughter, leaves the police force to spend time with his wife (Kishimoto Kayoko), who is dying of leukemia and with his police partner, Horibe (Osugi Ren), who, paralyzed by a bullet wound, takes up painting animals with floral eyes (the painting, too, are Kitano’s; he is also a published poet, writes a weekly column, and is all over Japanese television).
Kitano has coiled power (charisma), but generally looks affect less, even when he seems to have strong feelings (as, for instance, in “Brother”). (His face was partially paralyzed in a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1994, but it is more that his eyes are dead than that his face is immobile.)
Kitano’s sense of humor is IMO offbeat (though he calls himself “Beat”), particularly in “Tokyo Eyes“. The rhythm of his movies, and what he intercuts, are very alien even to someone like me who has seen and admired many Japanese movies. The unmarked switches from the present to past events are disorienting (though doing this has become more common since 1997).
The mixture of melodrama about longing and crime drama and pop-art colors has some affinity to Wong Kar-Wai’s movies of the 1990s, though Kitano is not above telling a story (or more than one at the same time.) Visual style is more important than story-telling to both, and beneath the bravura stylization, deep melancholy about the human condition throbs in the movies of both.
The New Yorker DVD of “Fireworks”” has cropped the images, cut bits, and jiggered the colors. It includes a bonus “making-of” featurette.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray