Hana-Bi (Fireworks) (はなび)
Directed by: Takeshi Kitano
Written by: Takeshi Kitano
The first time I ever heard of Takeshi Kitano’s Hana-Bi was from one my professors at the university. He talked briefly about it, and assured as that he will be screening it the following week. The night before the screening, I happened to come across it while I was leaving the university library. I took the DVD home that night under the impression that I would watch the first few minutes of the film before I go to sleep. I stayed up all night watching Hana-Bi all the way through. At that particular moment, I realised that not only had I come across a masterpiece, but whatever I had originally thought cinema had meant to me was completely demolished. I don’t say this very often, but I really have not seen anything like Hana-Bi! It was as if someone had just introduced me to the art of the moving image and said, ‘here, watch this..’. Now, whenever someone asks me what my definition of a perfect film is, I would reply, without any hesitation, Hana-Bi.
If you are already familiar with Takeshi Kitano’s work, you may already know that his persona is almost always associated with the yakuza genre (or more accurately, sub-genre). Hana-Bi appears to be, almost disguises itself as, a yakuza film, although it goes much more beyond that. At the heart of the film is a love story, an unconventional Japanese love story. Kitano (who writes, directs, and acts in all of his films) plays a police officer (Nishi) whose wife has just been diagnosed with leukemia. Nishi’s partner Horibe (played flawlessly by Ren Ôsugi) gets paralyzed early on in the film after being attacked by an armed criminal. After Nishi quits his job as a police officer, he is forced to borrow money from the Yakuza in order to spend time with his wife.
It seems to me that this film is Kitano’s most personal work to date. A well crafted piece of cinema that tackles everything from friendship, love, and vengeance. Throughout the fragmented narrative of the film we see Nishi’s paralyzed partner attempting to discover a new hobby. He begins to paint excessively, being inspired by that surrounds him, all of which seem to echo the various themes presented in the narrative. Nevertheless, that is merely the least interesting part about Horibe’s paintings, once I found out that the paintings we see are actually done by Kitano himself! In one of his interviews he explained, jokingly, that he began to paint after his motorcycle accident (which was a major incident in Kitano’s life that left his face somewhat disfigured and, arguably, Hana-Bi was one of the outcomes of that road accident) figuring that the head injury might have unlocked some ‘hidden genius’ in him (classic Kitano!). Almost all the paintings featured in Hana-Bi, including the ones that are hanging on the walls, were original Kitanos.
Kitano is mostly notorious for his suggestive violence, and in Hana-Bi it is done to perfection. At certain times, the violence is interconnected with the paintings, giving the film an abstract and minimal tone. A jump cut matched with red paint on a canvas, a flinch matched with a bloody outcome, or simply suggestive sounds. Some scenes feel so unreal that at certain moments you feel like you’re watching a Luis Bunuel film, except in this case nothing turns out to be a dream. Many critics associate Kitano’s style with Quentin Tarantino, which is I think is extremely misleading. They often confuse Tarantino’s tasteless violence (which I have no problem with at all) with Kitano’s comedic violence. In a Tarantino film the violence is exaggerated to the point where it looks absurd, while Kitano will have you confused, unsure whether you should laugh after the violent shock. This is because Kitano does not see any difference between comedy and violence, which for some directors can be quite problematic (see Friedkin’s Killer Joe (2011) for instance).
Finally, let us not forget to mention the brilliant score by Joe Hisaishi, of which (in my opinion) is the key ingredient to this masterpiece of a film. Joe Hisaishi’s melancholic score makes the film complete, especially when matched by Kitano’s see scenery (which hold a key importance in almost every film he made). When I first watched the film I felt that the score was misleading, and I understood that I was completely wrong after a found myself haunted by the music days after the viewing. Hana-Bi is Kitano at his best, a marvelous achievement that defies cinematic conventions and the Golden Lion was the least award it deserved. In fact, it is sad to say that this might be the greatest film that Kitano will have ever directed (I hope I’m wrong). Hana-Bi is, without a doubt, my second favourite film of all time and I doubt that it will be knocked down from that spot any time soon. To all of you who have yet to see this film, you are in for the treat of your life!
SEE MOVIE: Available on Amazon.
Darrell William Davis. Cinema Journal Vol. 40, No. 4 (Summer, 2001), pp. 55-80
YouTube. (2013). Scenes By The Sea – The Life And Cinema Of ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano . [Online Video]. 24 February. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2xdl8P4Nog. [Accessed: 29 December 2014].