November 10, 2017

Movie Review: Hana-Bi (aka Fireworks)

Hana-Bi, or HANA-BI, or Fireworks, if you prefer, was a fascinating viewing experience. I am not saying it was great, although it was certainly very good, it was just something that that I was completely not expecting. It is not so much a movie as it is an existential bi-polar examination of a man who seems to be so disconnected as to not care anymore, although if there is one thing that he does, it is care. It might help that I am not that familiar with the films of Takeshi Kitano, and what I do know makes it a complete surprise to know that he is famous as a comedian. I didn't see that one coming.

This was the movie that got Kitano recognized as a director, but only after winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Hana-Bi is a movie that Takashi Kitano wrote, directed, edited, and starred in. It is a film he had near complete control of and he crafted a crime thriller that is simultaneously familiar and unlike anything I had ever seen before. I should probably admit now that the only other of his directed films I had previously seen was his excellent take on Zatocihi. Outside of that, I had just seen some films he was in, like Battle Royale, Ghost in the Shell, and Johnny Mnemonic. I know I need to see Sonatine, Violent Cop, and the Outrage films.

Hana-Bi is a distillation of a Charles Bronson-Death Wish type of thriller. They have taken the same type of formula and ran it through so many filters, so as to take away so of the big expected moments. This is Death Wish sans plot, all of the white noise has been stripped away, but they didn't stop there, they kept going until any and all extraneous moments, pieces, bits of dialogue were gone. This is a movie that is introspective in alternately quiet and explosive moments. Do not look to the movie for the how’s or the why’s, instead look to it for the aftermath, the reactions of a man so beleaguered as to have nowhere to go. It is fascinating and frustrating.

At the center of the story is Nishi (Kitano), a police detective who had recently lost his daughter and whose wife is dying of leukemia. As the tale begins, Nishi goes to the hospital to see his wife rather than go on stakeout with his partner. While he is at the hospital, an incident occurs at the stakeout, his partner is badly injured and another detective is killed. We do not immediately see what happened, we are given pieces along the way. In pretty rapid succession, his partner is confined to a wheelchair and his family leaves him, his wife is declared terminal, and he leaves his position on the force.

We also learn he is in deep for a loan from the Yakuza that he is having a hard time paying back. Also, the Yakuza are trying to extort even more from him. So, he stages a rather daring bank robbery and takes his wife around to do all the things they've wanted to do,until they reach the end of the line. I will not tell the ending, but will say it is as bleak and tragic as they come. I also found it to be rather inevitable.

This is a very quiet film with moments of explosive violence. Nishi is a bit of psychopath and when he gets triggered, there really is no stopping him. Kitano’s performance is quite good, taking an extremely minimalist approach, much like his use of dialogue. He almost seems disinterested in everything that's happening, but is more like he is waiting to react.

On the surface, there really is not much to the story. So much has been filtered out that what is left behind is not much of a story. But if you watch, you will be rewarded in some fish character work. It shows that for all the expected moments, the lingering bravado, there's something much quieter, depressing and human waiting on the other side. It may not be fun,but it is worthy of exploring.

Highly Recommended.

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