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Sonatine, Takeshi Kitano’s Cinematic Mastery

'Sonatine' Kitano's 1993 film masterpiece, still has a freshness and the ability to surprise.

November 29, 2016
Words by Mr Francis Whitman
Photos by Sonatine

Essentially, it’s an offbeat variation of the traditional Japanese Yakuza thriller, with Mr Kitano the writer, star and director as Murakawa, the taciturn, but influential Tokyo hit-man who is pushed by his boss into becoming involved an Okinawa gang war, against his better judgment.  But what’s truly unusual is the star/director’s attitude towards the film’s formal qualities complimented by Kitano’s signature cinematography and the haunting soundtrack by Mr Joe Hisaishi.

He (Murakawa) is tired of living, but not scared of dying, because death, he explains, would at least put an end to his fear of death, which is making his life not worth living. When he explains this perfectly logical reasoning, you look to see if he is smiling, but he isn't. He has it all worked out.

Roger Ebert

Structurally, the movie – like a sonata – is tripartite. It starts with a tempestuous scene of gangland machinations and warfare (in Mr Kitano’s world, violence is like a lightning bolt, it happens, and then it’s over). Then quickly the film takes a very different turn when Murakawa and his men take refuge in a coastal hideaway. It is here our chief protagonists lay low literally ‘killing time’ for most of the film before the seemingly inevitably finale. It is in these wonderfully dawn out and at times ‘art house’ moments we are forced to look more closely at the Tokyo drifters, revealing a much more human side, manifested by the surreal, jokey and playful seaside antics.  It is also in this period of supposed time wasting that love is inopportunely stumbled upon. The film climaxes almost where it started, with a final lyrical flourish of death which is both moody and introspective.

. . . in his willingness to let characters languish in real time, to do nothing in between the moments of action, he forces us to look into their eyes and try to figure them out. Films that explain nothing often make everything clear. Films that explain everything often have nothing to explain.

Roger Ebert

Japanese gangster film masterpiece Sonatine remains singular in Mr Takeshi Kitano’s witty, melancholic and challenging cinematic approach (and credited for influencing Mr Quentin Tarantino).

Director: Takeshi Kitano

Screenwriter: Takeshi Kitano

Cast: Aya Kokumai, Masanobu Katsumura, Susumu Terashima, Takeshi Kitano, Tetsu Watanabe

Soundtrack: Joe Hisaishi

Duration: 94 mins (1993)

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Mr Francis Whitman is a writer, photographer and surfer. When he’s not embarking on adventures around the world, he calls the Georgian city of Bath his home.

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