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:: Brother

Takeshi Kitano writes and directs under his full name and acts under his nickname “Beat” Takeshi, which is taken from his old comedy days. “Brother” marks his ninth film as a director and his American filmmaking debut, but it still registers as one of his own Japanese films. So, no sell-out done here.

He plays Yamamoto, a gangster forced to flee Japan after his powerful mob boss is assassinated. He travels to Los Angeles and meets up with his half-brother Ken (Claude Maki), who has become completely engrossed as an American drug dealer. Yamamoto quickly dispenses with small-time stuff and elevates the little gang into a highly paid drug empire. It gets out of control and he decided to take on the Italian gangsters.

For whatever reason, Yamamoto and half-brother Ken never really make a proper bond. Instead, it is Denny (Omar Epps), a black man and Ken’s “comrade”, who endears himself to Yamamoto as a “brother” of sorts. Denny refers to Yamamoto as “aniki”, the Japanese word for brother.

There is a major point of this bond when Denny returns to the hideout one night to see a thug holding a gun at Yamamoto’s head. Denny shoots the thug but Yamamoto is also accidentally hit. Fortunately, Yamamoto survives and they can joke about it together when he recovers.

Early on, Takeshi shows the coolness of a John Wayne as he wipes out opposing forces. When we get to a full-scale war of gangs, Yamamoto regresses into a passive role, grimly accepting his fate. The visual riches and dry humour are there to savour in the rise and fall of Yamamoto. The bluff and bluster of his gang provides much of the movie’s wit and style. One could suggest that the gang’s road downwards causes the film to stumble and trip over slightly.

The film works if you have a taste for ironic, jet-black humour. You’ll squirm at various moments of finger slicing, chopsticks-up-the-nose, and other disturbing mayhem. Perhaps Kitano’s vision was compromised slightly by trying to make it palatable to American audiences. The script seems a bit light and inconsequential at times. However, the music score evokes different moods and emotions. And Kitano’s striking performance goes a long way to lifting the film’s standard. He gets excellent performances out Ren Osugi and Susumu Terajima. Kitano’s style and humour may not appeal to all, but “Brother” is still entertaining and a fascinating step in the career of one of Japan’s film icons.