Brother (2000)

For his first 'international' feature, shot in Los Angeles with predominantly Japanese dialogue (indeed, with only the most elementary talk of any kind), 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano has stuck with the most exportable elements of his style and to held back on the sensitivity which mingled with the violence in Hana Bi and Sonatine and eclipsed it in Kikujiro, delivering hardboiled Yakuza action typical of many a Japanese genre film. It's a bloody, corpse-riddled, rather melancholy movie - undeniably powerful but familiar in its plot, with Omar Epps as ultimate benefactor of the carnage thanks to billing rather than any special distinction of character.

Yamamoto (Takeshi), a typical hardman character, arrives in America to seek out his half-brother (Claude Maki), after a war in the Japanese underworld has made it prudent for him to go into exile. On the way to his brother's place, he bumps into black dude Denny (Epps) who tries a petty intimidation scam on him and nearly gets his eye put out with a broken bottle for his pains. Later, of course, it turns out that Denny is in with Maki and a few other minimally characterised small-timers in a corner drugs gang. Yamamoto, known as 'aniki' (big brother), gets behind the gang and uses direct methods (wiping out all opposition) to take over the turf from mostly Mexican opposition. They expand and start raking in large amounts of money that they spend on sharper suits, a white stretch limo and impressive offices. As is usual in yakuza movies, we only see gangsters gunning each other down and never doing any of the dealing that makes the money - no drugs are shown or taken or the subject of any moralising.

It consists mostly of guys in terrific suits standing around looking intimidating or blasting away at each other with guns, with a few touches of Takeshi's wry sentiment or humour. The director-star is even more restrained a presence than usual, giving very little away, and his visual approach sometimes feels like an Ozu-directed gunsploitation movie as: the camera is often respectfully lowered not to look in the faces of characters Typical of the skewed vision of the underworld is a moment when Yamamoto's sidekick from the homeland convinces a rival Japanese hood to throw in with the the aniki gang by blowing his own brains out. A lot of violent incidents crop up, mostly unexplained and accepted with a fatalistic shrug: a kidnapping that leads to the boss's girlfriend's death, a hold-up thwarted when Denny guns down the hoods and also puts one in Yamamoto's gut, a seppuku disembowelling and yakuza fingertipectomies.

First Published... somewhere.

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