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After a gang war in Japan goes badly, Yamamoto (Takeshi Kitano) is forced to flee to the United States. In Los Angeles, he meets up with his half-brother Ken (Claude Maki). Ken is involved in low level drug dealing with Denny (Omar Epps), but Yamamoto’s no-nonsense style and ruthless tactics soon see the gang moving up the ranks of the LA underworld. After defeating a higher-level gang, the operation becomes much more sophisticated – and acquires some merciless new allies. But they’re still looked upon as upstarts by the local Mafiosi, much to Yamamoto’s chagrin. With his new found power, he’s determined to rectify the situation.

From early films like Sonatine through to Hana-bi, Takeshi Kitano (aka Beat Takeshi) has virtually single-handedly redefined the yakuza crime film. He managed to elevate the genre from shlock to something approaching the intellectual complexity of Scorsese. His films have worked to a large degree because of their context in Japan’s highly structured and somewhat restrictive society. Now he moves to the US for Brother, and the transition isn’t all that comfortable. Takeshi retains his trademark style in which tension builds slowly, only to explode in a moment of violence and mayhem; but in the craziness of LA, his actions seem less those of the studied ronin (a master-less samurai) than those of just another street thug. After a tight start, Brother tends to lose shape in the middle stages as action overshadows story, before finishing with a brilliant ending. The film unfolds at a measured pace and requires the audience’s full attention. Like all Kitano’s films, there’s a lot going on here under the surface. In this case however, whether the film’s complexity works or not depends on how you react to the characters. There’s a strong fatalistic element to Yamamoto; a kind of resignation to doom that’s very Zen, but the character’s cool detachment fails to generate much empathy. In the central role, Kitano displays his wonderful deadpan style and dry humour to good effect, even if it is difficult to feel much for him. Omar Epps is much more animated as Denny. He turns in a fine performance; giving us someone to care about. While Brother doesn’t represent Kitano’s greatest work, it remains a cut above your average crime flick. It’s just that from this director, we have a right to expect more than he delivers here.
David Edwards

Better to lose a finger than lose face. Actually, if the untrammelled brutality of the yakuza as its portrayed here is anything close to accurate—and it rings appallingly true—failing to slice off your own digit as penalty for disgrace will probably ensure that someone will deprive you of your face for you. Literally. You wouldn’t immediately pick Beat Takeshi as a successful comedian. There is an underlying irony here, but it’s subtle. Still, he’s apparently a very successful funnyman at home in Japan, whilst demonstrating his versatility here as the phlegmatic and taciturn gangster, with a gaze no less inscrutable for its slight, persistent tic. And Beat Takeshi’s versatility doesn’t end there. For it is merely the alias of director/writer Takeshi Kitano. Kitano is fast developing acclaim as an auteur, with a style as laconic as Brother’s protagonist. Rarely at pains to fill in narrative gaps, he lets his audiences draw their own conclusions. Yet there are also yawning gaps of exposition. Kitano seems to have far more sensitivity to mise en scene than to dialogue. He demonstrates a deadly eye but an unsure ear. Faces, particularly his own, are as perfect as the pictures they inhabit; but the delivery of the words does not always match the expressions. The film’s strength lies in its perfect pacing, propelled in stages, and allowing us room for contemplation. However, while Kitano’s directing is disciplined way beyond the radar of mainstream Hollywood, it is emasculated by moments of heavy-handedness. Most egregious is the final scene, an unsubtle sentimentality, spelled out to the point of condescension. Nevertheless, for those willing to forgive style over substance, there is definitely an artist’s eye at work. The camera rests on a face, or an overview of a rooftop, so engaging you feel the individual frame might serve better than the film. But the only significance behind it all is apparently the old saw that brothers in bloodshed can develop stronger bonds than brothers in blood. Despite a final compassionate gesture from Yamomoto he is a sliver shy of lacking a heart. So is the film.
Brad Green

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CAST: Takeshi Kitano, Kuroudo Maki, Omar Epps, Masaya Kato, Ren Osugi

DIRECTOR: Takeshi Kitano

PRODUCER: Masayuki Mori, Jeremy Thomas

SCRIPT: Takeshi Kitano

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Katsumi Yanagishima

EDITOR: Takeshi Kitano

MUSIC: Jô Hisaishi


RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 15, 2001

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