AKA: Aniki, Mon Frère (French title)
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Omar Epps, Kuroudo Maki, Masaya Kato, Susumu Terajima, Royale Watkins, Lombardo Boyar, Ren Osugi, Ryo Ishibashi, James Shigeta, Tatyana Ali, Makolo Ohtake, Kouen Okumura, Naomasa Musaka, Rino Katase
Running Time: 114 min.
Ignore the critics, this is a great flick. One of Kitano’s best? That’s hard to say. Almost any film pales in comparison to classics like “Hana-bi” and “Sonatine”. Maybe it was my lowered expectations, but I really loved this one.
In “Brother”, Beat Takeshi plays a yakuza who is forced to join his younger brother in Los Angeles when it is apparent that a war is going to break out. When he arrives, he learns that his brother has dropped out of school and is now pushing drugs with some buddies. After some initial anger, Takeshi decides to help his brother and his buddies in taking down LA’s other suppliers in order to build a successful criminal organization.
Like all of Kitano’s crime movies, the focus of this film is not on action. The focus here is on the little things. A game of basketball between Japanese and American gangsters. A football game on the beach. A dice game between Kitano and his brother’s friend. A paper airplane gliding between two buildings. A punch in the stomach from a disappointed older brother. The look on the face of a young man witnessing his first murder. Lesser directors would emphasize the bloodier moments, and while there are plenty (and I mean plenty) violent, bloody moments in the film, they take a backseat to observation and the comparing of Eastern and Western ways.
Kitano also shows that he hasn’t lost his knack for creating likable characters with the minimum amount of dialogue possible. He also has a large cast in this one, with a lot of small characters. Both those factors could potentially make it pretty hard to comment on the performances, but if there is one thing Kitano knows how to do, it is to create a likable cast. Kitano is great, playing in his usual quiet, understated style. Omar Epps, who has the biggest non-Japanese performance here, is very good, and the relationship between his character, Denny, and Kitano’s, Aniki, is fun to watch and believable. All of the supporting actors are pretty good, too, and it’s nice to see Claude Maki in another Kitano film (he was the star of Kitano’s seminal “A Scene at the Sea”).
It is also worth mentioning the score of the film, which is very nice (as is usually the case in a Kitano film). It consists mostly of laid back jazz, which perfectly compliments this laid back movie. Only Kitano can make a bloody, violent crime movie and still give it a laid back feeling.
In conclusion, this is one to own. A laid-back, thoughtful East Meets West crime flick with great acting and virtually no stereotypes. Kitano is one of the great living directors, and hopefully this film will get him more recognition in the western hemisphere. It gets my fullest recommendation.
Woody’s Rating: 9.5/10
Weeeeeeelll then, Kitano eh? Everybody’s favourite stand up comic/journalist/sadistic gameshow host/artist/actor returns in what I believe is his ninth directed film, but I could (read: probably am) be wrong.
Brother came out in 2000, but has only just been released in some territories (i.e. USA which is surprising seeing half of it was filmed in LA and it has US actors in it) and has been rated as “the worst Kitano movie” by a lot of people. But fuck that opinion. It may well be the worst Beat Takeshi flick, but it’s still bloody brilliant and I don’t mean that “bloody” as just a way of getting my point across.
Brother follows disgraced Yakuza Yamamoto (Kitano), known as Aniki (big brother) for most of the film to LA where he plans to meet his little brother whom he sent to America many years ago when they left their orphanage. Thing is, while Aniki is a big-time Yakuza, his lil’ bro is a small time drug dealer working for Mexicans in his black/latino/japanese gang. The comic relief that crops up in almost all Kitano movies is here in it’s usual dark form – for example how Aniki introduces himself to Denny (Omar Epps): Denny tries to scam Aniki by walking into him and dropping a bottle of wine before claiming it cost $200. Aniki calmly bends down and picks up the broken bottle…and stabs Denny in the eye with it, before giving him some knuckles to the belly.
The violence is pretty damn graphic and you see intestines, severed fingers and heads and several stabbings and shootings and the acting is usual Kitano: excellent, although some of the support is nothing special. The story is gripping and the action is very quick and noisy and will probably make you jump a few times.
Overall, I would say that Kitano’s aim of getting a Yakuza-style movie into the American mainstream has failed as it is certain of an NC-17 certificate if not higher in it’s uncut form and it is too arty for it to be a hit. If compared to a HK movie, I’d say that the movie plays out like The Longest Nite with more violence and less stylish moments (i.e. the mirrors gunfight).
Still, see it, it’s unBeatable (groan).
Tequila’s Rating: 9/10 – A great addition to the black comedy crime drama genre