Takeshi Kitano (a.k.a. "Beat" Takeshi) is an odd figure in the annals
of Japanese films. A noted comedian and TV personality, he has fashioned
a screen persona akin to Clint Eastwood's taciturn "Man With No Name" in
a series of features set in the Tokyo underworld. Often violent but very
stylized, Kitano has enjoyed commercial success at home and in the USA.
Like Eastwood, he also has branched out in his filmmaking and the rewards
have ranged from film festival prizes to newfound critical support. With
HANA-BI (FIREWORKS), he segued into more character-driven territory
while KIKUJIRO played as a Japanese variation on the splendid Brazilian
film CENTRAL STATION. BROTHER, which was shown at the 2000
New York Film Festival, marks a further branching out for Kitano. It's
his first movie to be shot in the USA.
In this drama, Kitano limns the role of Yamamoto, a stoic Japanese
gangster who makes Eastwood look positively animated. For a variety of
reasons -- mostly he's crossed the wrong people -- Yamamoto is made
to disappear from Tokyo and move to the United States. Settling in
Los Angeles where his younger half-brother (Claude Maki) is a hip-hop
gangsta doubling as a low level drug dealer, Yamamoto eventually
becomes embroiled in events that arise when one of his brother's deals
goes sour. Forming a gang that includes Denny (Omar Epps), a guy that
Yamamoto had a violent encounter with on his first day in the city, they
eventually rise to a position of power that becomes increasingly difficult
to maintain. The overall effect is sort of a distillation of all three parts
of THE GODFATHER.
BROTHER, though, is an extremely violent film. This isn't news to
fans of Kitano's previous work but here, the mutilations, disembowelments
and other gruesome sights seem to exist merely because they can. It's
as if Kitano feels he has to compete -- and best -- what is depicted
in American films. Still, in his curious way, he also maintains a
retributive tone that infuses his work. Those who invoke violence almost
always end up as victims of violence.
As a gangster flick, BROTHER unfolds at a smooth pace and the
growing bond of family that develops between Yamamoto and Denny is
nicely developed. Performance-wise, Kitano is his typical self, silent and
brooding, while Epps smoothly complements him. While it can be difficult
to watch, and there is a major misstep at the end, BROTHER doesn't
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive strong violence,
language and brief nudity
Running time: 114 min
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.