I first wrote a review of this film here on IMDb back in June 2000. At the time I was totally in awe of the film, the script, the acting, the cinematography, the musical score and above all the direction from Tekashi "Beat" Kitano. Some 18 months on and I still love the film and is certainly one of my top five international films. I have seen Kitano's latter films, Hana-bi, Brother, Tokyo Eyes & Gonin, and even though production values have improved, especially with Brother and Hana-Bi, I personally feel that Sonatine still remains Beat's best film to date. In retrospect one can see within the film a vision of Beat's state of mind at the time. It is no secret that he tried to commit suicide in real life shortly after the completion of Sonatine. With this in mind it is easy to understand the motive within film and how it is structured within Kitano's head. Even though it is a film about Yakuza and gangland killings Kitano doesn't fill every scene with a running commentary or 100mph action-fests. Instead Sonatine is very much an avante-garde kind of film with the "action" taking a backseat to the humdrum lives of the gangsters themselves. Kitano is the boss of a successful Yakuza mob in central Tokyo at the expense of its poorer rivals. As a consequence a plot is hatched to get him and his members on a meaningless trip to Okinawa to sort out a peace-deal between waring factions and thus leaving his "patch" vulnerable to a take-over. So Kitano's gang arrive in Okinawa only to find that there is no such "deal" but instead his gang are steadily killed off leaving only himself and 3 other gang members and an abandoned young woman, whom he saves from a rape ordeal by her husband They move to the coast well away from central Okinawa and wait for the troubles to calm down before considering returning to Tokyo. During that time they have very little to do other than play beach games, sing songs or play Russian Roulette in order to pass the time. But eventually even the beach hut where they live is no longer safe from the assassin's bullet and so Kitano has no other choice but to face his rivals once and for all in a bloody gun battle finale. And so ends the film. It is not a happy film with no satisfying "Hollywoodesque" ending. Far from it, the ending only illustrates the working mind of Kitano at the time. In fact there are many examples within the film that underlines the bleak suicidal tendencies of his mind for real, especially the Russian Roulette scene. It is also interesting that these gangsters think nothing of their own lives or safety: they accept their fate as a death-wish. They have witnessed so much death in their lives that they have lost their morality & humanity in themselves and to other people. So it is no surprise that during the various gun battles between rival groups neither Kitano or his men hide behind furniture in order to avoid the bullets. Instead they stand erect like statues firing their guns, hoping for the best waiting to be killed by their enemy in full view. The life of the Yakuza in the context of this film, therefore, counts for little. They have no life, only a limited existence. There are few highlights - such as the Sumo scene, the firework fight and even the scene where Aya Kokumai removes her t-shirt in front of Kitano so that she is semi-nude before him. And yet not even this makes an impression on him. He is has become such an empty shell that even his sensual nature has long since gone, such is the life of a Yakuza warlord. Critics would argue that this film is too anal for its own good, that nothing much happens and that the film is punctuated with "to camera" shots of the main protagonists looking vacant at the audience waiting for something to happen. In my opinion these critics miss the point. There is a reason why they stare back at the camera/audience. There is no sparkle in their eyes, no smile playing on their lips, no supple skin tone, no positive body language to tell us that these people are really happy. Instead, we see nothing but ghosts, empty husks of humanity awaiting their fate with the silver bullet; they look at us as if they are pleading with us to put them out of their sad existence. They may have guns, the money, the power but they are not happy, they are not content, they are not you and me! Sonatine remains one of the most influential films ever to come out of Japan. So impressed was I with this film that I created this IMDb login in honour of its majesty. Yes, it maybe seen as a sad act to name a login after a film but for me Tekeshi Kitano has yet to direct a better film and Sonatine will haunt me for all sorts of reasons for years to come, especially the excellent score from Joe Hisaishi. *****/*****
Several yakuza from Tokyo are sent to Okinawa to help end a gang war. The war then escalates and the Tokyo drifters decide to lay low at the beach.
April 25, 2020