Fireworks (hana-bi)

on September 11, 1997 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
An odd mixture of lyrical drama and violent action, Takeshi Kitano's newest movie, which deservedly won the Best Picture award at the 1997 Venice Film Festival, is more evidence of his remarkable talent. In fact, it certifies him as one of the finest contemporary filmmakers, whose piercing vision is unlike any other.
   Kitano, who usually stars in his films (?Boiling Point,? ?Violent Cop?) as a suave but rough sort seems to be the same sort of guy here, but Nishi, his character, is carrying a hard burden?a dying wife (Kayako Kashimoto), whom he loyally visits whenever possible. On one of those visits, the detective's best friend and partner, Horibe (Ren Osugi) is gunned down by a criminal and paralyzed for life. That sad reality, his debts to a vicious loan shark and his own innate violent nature push Nishi, who has been suspended from the force for shooting a corpse, to new actions on the other side of the law.
   Kitano, who is almost painterly in his direction, lets his story unfold gently. Just as important as what's happening at the center of his story are the small but often overlooked details, the sunsets and other beautiful aspects of life, that both Nishi and even Horibe learn to appreciate. That these thoughtful ruminations are often punctured by bloody bouts of gore and destruction only bolsters Kitano's skills as a filmmaker. The former and the latter make sense being brought together (which is no mean feat).
   As Nishi, Kitano offers his typical deadpan performance, but the domestic difficulties of Nishi's life enrich his character. You can sense the pain behind the cool facade and sunglasses. Despite its title, ?Fireworks? never explodes in any overt way, but its emotional impact is, nevertheless, lasting. Starring Takeshi Kitano, Kayako Kashimoto and Ren Osugi. Written and directed by Takeshi Kitano. Produced by Masayuki Mori, Yasushi Tsuge and Takio Yoshida. Drama. A Milestone release. Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 103 min.
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