Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
For the first time in his career, Brother relocates esteemed Japanese writer/director/actor ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano’s tastefully violent vision across the Pacific to the vacant sun-numbed sprawl of downtown Los Angeles. In common with his other Tokyo-set action-packed arthouse films Hana-Bi, Boiling Point and Violent Cop, Brother continues Kitano’s obsession with Japan’s clandestine Yakuza clan, the gangster brotherhood whose each move is informed by a strict code of honour and discipline. It is, in every respect, a classic of its kind; an ultra-stylish East-West Pulp Fiction with manners and Yohji Yamamoto-designed suits. And death. So much beautiful death.
Ken (Maki) and Denny (Epps) are small-time drug pushers in LA, selling their wares in dimly-lit car parks, until Ken’s older, estranged brother, his ‘akini’, Yamamoto (Kitano) arrives from Tokyo, his Yakuza links severed. Within no time, Yamamoto is back on familiar turf, having efficiently bumped off his brother’s supplier and then ruthlessly assassinated LA’s Mexican criminal fraternity.
Rather than adapt to LA underworld lore, Yamamoto instills the Yakuza’s methods of dignified conduct into his gang’s swelling ranks. It’s a theme echoed in the director’s refusal to compromise with Hollywood convention, as Kitano constructs each shot with a painter’s eye for space and detail, inventing a non-specific LA of clean edges and pale colours, vast loft offices and the sleekest limousines. The violence, too, much as there is (finger-slicing, self-disembowelling, decapitation) is executed with such flair and skill that you can almost forgive the bloody desecration of all those bespoke suits.
So successful is Yamamoto’s gang that soon they merge with rival crime baron Shirase (Kato), only to discover the Mafia demanding a cut of their profits. They refuse and war breaks out, Yamamoto plainly aware that no-one, least of all his group of eager amateurs, takes on the Mafia and wins.
A simple tale told with style by a man in complete mastery of his art, Brother astonishes from start to finish. — Piers Martin, NME, 19/3/01
It’s my Pearl Harbor. I’m attacking American culture head-on – and just like the Japanese in WWII, I’m failing miserably. — Kitano Takeshi, San Francisco Bay Guardian, 25/4/01