FIREWORKS (Takeshi Kitano, 1997)

Hana-bi comes from Japan. Takeshi Kitano wrote, directed and edited this allegedly important piece of cinema; as Beat Takeshi, he is also its star. He plays a cop who retires after a young rookie is (he feels) killed in his place when he (the retired cop) takes off a few hours to visit his wife in hospital, where she is dying of cancer and nurturing a grief: the death of her and her husband’s young daughter. (The girl on the beach whom the couple watch flying a kite. Everyone I’ve read takes this as a literal person. Might she not be an imagined image of the couple’s lost child?) Anyhow, the former cop’s partner, deserted by wife and child, is now wheelchair-bound for life as a result of the same shoot-out that claimed the rookie’s life. Heavy guilt for Beat Takeshi, who transforms a taxi cab into a facsimile of a police car and poses as a cop so that he can rob a bank so he can tend to his wife’s care and pay off loans to neighborhood Yakuzas. He also kills and/or mutilates a lot of fellas who rub him the wrong way, most of them Yakuzas. He has a particular thing for eyes, stabbing one out with a chopstick and dropping a knife into another as a beaten guy lies on the floor. Meanwhile, Beat’s former partner has turned to painting animals and people with flowers for faces. All the paintings in the film—and there are many—were done by Takeshi Kitano!      Visually the film is entrancing, capturing a forlorn loveliness in Nature in a lonely, underpopulated seaside Japan, and the elliptical narrative precisely juggles present, memories and imaginings in order to burrow into the protagonist’s psyche. The elegance of Kitano’s artistic expressiveness, however, can hardly wipe the viewer’s eyes and mouth of so much spilt blood, and unless your taste in films runs to Scorsese and Tarantino, I do not recommend Fireworks. I spent a fifth of the film diverting my eyes from the screen when what I really wanted, and needed, was a fifth.

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