In the Mood for Love Film Review

Wong Kar Wai’s Hong Kong film In the Mood for Love premiered in May of 2000 at the Cannes Film Festival in France.  Wong, a Hong Kong Second Wave filmmaker, had already attained some status internationally, but this film solidified his presence as an international auteur.  The film was well received and was even nominated for the Palme d’Or.  Since its release, the film has received much critical acclaim.  Much of the charm of the film derives from the nature of the filming style and plot, which leaves much of the content to the imagination of the viewer.   Because much is left unsaid, many interpretations can be made about the film.  This makes the experience of watching it not only emotional, but also intellectual.  While In the Mood for Love may not be the most intense or suspenseful film, it certainly makes the viewer think about the nature of human relationships and how quickly they can change.

The film opens in Hong Kong in 1962 with the two main characters and their respective spouses both moving into the same apartment complex on the same floor.  The leading male, Mr. Chow played by Tony Leung who can often be found in Wong Kar Wai’s films, and the leading female, Mrs. Chan played by Maggie Cheung, are both often seen alone because their spouses have jobs that require them to either consistently work overtime or to be out of the country on business.  Over the course of the movie, the two characters begin to realize that their spouses are having an affair with each other.  In the midst of their domestic relationships crumbling, they develop a new relationship with each other as they try to imagine what led their spouses to becoming closer.  The pair then has to manage a secret relationship and try to rise above their own significant others.  The reason why much of this film is left to interpretation is mainly because the nature of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan’s relationship is never clearly established.  They are often seen together trying to help each other get past their hardships with some undertones of romantic feelings, but it is difficult to tell whether or not they have a sexual relationship.  This lack of an obvious dynamic between the two characters actually makes the film more intriguing and allows the viewers to decide for themselves just how close the two characters became.

Another aspect of the film that adds to its overall quality is the style and the mise en scène of the shots.  In many of the scenes, much of the area on camera is obstructed in some manner.  Some examples of this include scenes being shot through a mirror, being shot in a narrow hallway, or being shot through bars.  Filming the scenes this way makes them feel cramped and almost uncomfortable for the viewer, which may be a reflection of the emotions of the main characters.  The characters may feel trapped or claustrophobic, either in their relationships with their spouses or in their newfound relationship with each other.  Adding another layer of obstruction is how much the two stand out in these scenes while their spouses are never completely seen, instead being occasionally heard talking or are partially viewed.  Being a stylistic choice by Wong, it is up to viewer to figure out why he does not want these characters, who have a large influence on the plot, to be seen.

An explanation for these interesting choices in style could relate to another of the film’s themes, memory.  It is stated in the film that as time passes, Mr. Chow does recall the events as clearly as he once did.  This could mean that the reason why the shots are cramped and some events are not clearly seen is because it is a visual representation of the idea of having an inaccurate memory.  It may be that the events the viewer sees are the events that Mr. Chow remembers clearly with the main characters standing out because he remembers himself and Mrs. Chan more fondly.  While this is only one way to interpret the film, the theme of memory can be found throughout the film, mostly toward the end.  In the Mood for Love is an interesting story about a romantic relationship, but its most intriguing quality is how much it leaves the viewer to interpret for themselves.

 

References:

In the Mood for Love. Dir. Kar-wai Wong. Block 2 Pictures, Inc., 2000.

“In the Mood for Love.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.

Farewell My Concubine Review

Farewell My Concubine is a 1993 Chinese film directed by Chen Kaige.   Concubine was a huge international success that brought worldwide appreciation for Chinese cinema.  It was given many prestigious awards upon its release including the Cannes Palme d’Or and Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography.  This critical acclaim helped boost its box office numbers, especially in Mainland China and Hong Kong (Lau, pg. 21).  Chen, along with Zhang Yimou, was one of the key Fifth Generation Filmmakers of the 1980s and 90s.  While his 1984 film Yellow Earth garnered praise in the international film festival circuit, Concubine was one of the first Chinese films to balance mass commercial appeal with critical film festival acclaim.  Like many other Fifth Generation films, it is set in the cultural and political upheavals of twentieth century China.  The protagonists of the film struggle to adapt to these changes as actors of the dying art of the Peking Opera.

 

Farewell My Concubine itself has two dimensions as both a deeply personal love story and a culturally shared experience.  It stars Leslie Cheung as Dieyi and Zhang Fengyi as Xiaolou, two boys who grew up in a Peking Opera acting troupe.  Their training is often cruelly strict and Dieyi is forced to act in women’s roles against his will, but the two are determined to succeed as leading actors.  Their shared hardships bring them together and Dieyi falls in love with Xiaolou.  But just as their popularity reaches a national fervor, the men’s relationship strains when Xiaolou falls in love with a courtesan named Juxian (played by Gong Li).   In the background of the character conflict and development, the movie plays out the Japanese invasion of China during World War II and the onset of the Cultural Revolution, reflecting the shifting attitudes of the Chinese people.

The visual spectacle is one of the biggest draws of Farewell My Concubine.  The film features lavish sets, gorgeous colorful costuming, and emotionally powerful characterization.  This allows the viewer to immerse themselves in the setting and feel the extravagant, but ultimately hollow life Dieyi lives.  Costuming also provides an important historical marker for the film.  Depending on whether a character wears traditional Chinese dress, Western clothing, or Communist worker clothing, the viewer can understand both their place in history and their personal allegiances.

One of the primary themes of the film is gender identity and sexuality.  Due to his feminine appearance and voice, Dieyi is forced to play female roles.  He fails, over and over again, to recite the lines, “I am by nature a girl, not a boy,” instead switching the genders.  He is beaten many times for his mistake, but it is only when Xiaolou punishes him that he can say the line correctly.

Dieyi’s unrequited love for Xiaolou is also a major focus of the film.  He gets increasingly jealous of Jinxian and even nearly destroys his working relationship with Xiaolou when he hears of their engagement.   These issues reflect in his acting, shown as patrons of the opera comment on Dieyi’s unparalleled ability to blend gender roles onstage.

It is easy to see how Concubine received a warm reception from critics and audiences alike.  It is rightly referred to as a visual spectacle in the striking beauty of its set pieces and the Peking Operas sprinkled throughout the film.  Its story is emotionally moving, grounded particularly in Leslie Cheung’s powerful acting.  It has great value as a product of both Chinese culture and history.

Souce: Lau, Jenny Kwok Wah (1995). “‘Farewell My Concubine’: History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema.” University of California Press 49 (1): 16–27.

In The Mood for Love

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In The Mood for Love (2000) examines the relationship of two next-door-neighbors brought together by their unfaithful spouses. The Chinese title of the film 花樣年華 means “the age of blossoms” and refers to transience of youth and a nostalgia for the past. In 2000, the film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is the second installment in Wong Kar-wai’s (sort of) trilogy with Days of Being Wild (1991) and 2046 (2004).

Set in 1960’s Hong Kong, Wong Kar-wai creates a world lush with nostalgia. Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) are always impeccably dressed and mannered. They are the glossy figures lifted from a Lucky Strike print ad. Yet despite their beauty, the main characters suffer from stifling loneliness. Although they live in an apartment teeming with people, they often eat alone. Both Chan and Chow’s spouses remain curiously absent from the film. The viewer only sees the back of Mrs. Chow’s head and hears Mr. Chan’s voice. Their absence becomes enhanced when we learn of Mr. Chan and Mrs. Chow’s affair.

Affairs, along with nostalgia, become repeated themes in the film. Wong Kar-wai seems fascinated by the simultaneously vivid and murky quality of memory. While the film drips with rich reds and sparkling golds, it often frames its characters in an unusual manner. Wong remembers the romantic panache of the 60s but also its societal constrictions. Mrs. Chan works as a secretary for a shipping company. Dressed in a stunning floral cheongsam, her delicate neck wrapped in fabric, she must arrange her boss’ dinners with both his wife and mistress. Mrs. Chan, a wife who has recently learned of her husband’s own infidelity, must aide in another man’s deceit.

In In The Mood for Love, Wong often pairs beauty with sadness, the shinning facade of nostalgia with its dark underbelly. In one scene, Maggie Cheung’s character leaves the neighborhood noodle shop and a mint green thermos swings in her manicured hands. The scene moves in slow motion, lingering on her figure as it ascends the stairs.  For a moment we are transfixed by her perfection. Then the camera shows the crumbling walls of the shop. We remember why Mrs. Chan eats alone each night. When the shot changes to Mr. Chow, we watch him eat dumplings, his dark hair slicked into place, but he too eats unaccompanied. On the surface, the viewer sees two attractive people, but inches below are two spouses abandoned by their other halves. When they walk past one another, the camera frames Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan in the decrepit corridor.

In The Mood for Love gives its viewers both beauty and substance. The cinematography and soundtrack overwhelm with their exceptionality. Wong awakens in his viewers a sense of nostalgia. We yearn for the polished sophistication of the 60s even if we never lived through it. We yearn for lovers never lost. In The Mood for Love moves slowly and deliberately, but the patient viewer is greatly rewarded.

 

HANA-BI Review

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HANA-BI, directed by Kitano “Beat” Takeshi, is a tale of two men’s journeys to deal with depression and loss. The film made its debut at the Venice film festival in 1997, taking home the Golden Lion award, and after its success on the international film circuit, was released in theatres in Japan in January 1998. HANA-BI was nominated for several Japanese Academy Awards and won the award for Best Score.

HANA-BI follows the lives of two retired police officers, Nishi and Horibe.  Horibe, who retires after becoming paralyzed in an accident, struggles to fill his time and overcome the grief of losing his job and his family. He eventually takes up painting, and the film is filled with shots of his colorful, surreal paintings. After the retirement of his partner, Nishi leaves the force as well in order to spend time with his wife, who was diagnosed with Leukemia. The main plot of the film follow’s the “journeys” of the two men—literally in the case of Nishi, who travels to Mount Fuji with his wife –in their effort to overcome grief.

The title of the film is the Japanese word for fireworks, a motif which shows up at multiple points throughout the film. Separately, the word consists of the words hana, or flower, and bi, or fire. The spelling of the film’s title as HANA-BI, which separates the two, hints at the film’s unique pacing and aesthetics. The film’s slow, deliberate pace contributes to a peaceful atmosphere and the intimacy between the couple portrayed in the film. Yet just as Nishi’s trip with his wife is constantly interrupted by the yakuza to whom he owes money, the calm of the film is punctuated with moments of extreme violence. These bursts of violence and the bursts of color provided by Horibe’s paintings (painted by Kitano himself) stand in stark contrast to the slow pacing and simple shots of nature within the film.

In addition to its unique pacing, another aspect of HANA-BI that stands out is its silence. Although the film does feature an original score composed by famous composer Joe Hisaishi, who has written scores for several films including those from Studio Ghibli, dialogue in the film is minimal.  Yet Kitano manages to express a sense of closeness and affection between Nishi and his wife without ever showing the couple exchange words; the only time the wife speaks at all is at the very end of the film, simply saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry.”

Through his use of striking pacing and aesthetics, Kitano was able to create a moving story of loss and depression. Although the uneven pacing and extent of the violence depicted in HANA-BI can at times be off-putting for viewers, it is the pacing that gives the film  its unique feeling, and makes it a memorable viewing experience.

OBALTAN or AIMLESS BULLET review

Obaltan, also known as Aimless Bullet, is a 1961 Korean film directed by Yu Hyun-Mok. Yu’s filmmaking style has drawn comparisons with the Italian Neo-Realists, and this style is on display in full force for Obaltan. Like the Neo-Realists, Yu’s focus is on the poor, the downtrodden, and the wounded. Obaltan is set in post-war Korea, in the brief time between two regimes, and foreign servicemen appear. However while the memories of the war are ever-present, and some of the characters are veterans, the war is truly more of a backdrop against which Yu weaves a tale of disappointment and struggle.

The story’s central characters are a pair of brothers, Chul-Ho, a married accountant with a pregnant wife, and Yong-Ho, an unemployed ex-soldier. The two brothers try to bring themselves prosperity and happiness, but their circumstances conspire against them. Chul-Ho, dutiful and hard-working, simply works hard and hoping for the best, struggles with a toothache throughout the film, putting off getting it fixed in hope of being able to provide gifts and food for his family. His demanor contrasts with Yong-Ho, filled with anger and pride, and unwilling to turn his war experiences into a commodity.

Other members of Chul-Ho’s family also appear. His aging, senile mother screams “Let’s go!” in nearly every scene she appears in, while his pregnant wife puts on a brave face, even as her and her husband fret about medical bills. Chul-Ho and Yong-Ho’s sister, Myong-Suk, who ends up working as a prostitute for the American soldiers stationed in Korea. The last important character is Kyong-Sik, a war veteran who was crippled in the war and walks with crutches. Kyong-Sik and Myong-Suk are in a relationship, but after he discovers her new profession, their relationship disintegrates.

The film tackles a range of themes, though one of the most notable is the treatment of Korean masculinity. In contrast with her brothers and lover, Myong-Suk is arguably the most “successful” character in the film, even if her money is earned through prostitution. The male characters are all emasculated, with Chul-Ho weary of working inside the system, Yong-Ho tired of fighting it, and Kyong-Sik both literally and emotionally crippled. As foreign soldiers occupy their lands for protection, many Korean men, especially former soldiers like Kyong-Sik or Yong-Ho, feel emasculated.

Obaltan is a brave film, looking at Korean life after the war with a sympathetic, discerning eye. The film unfolds slowly, yet inevitably. Obaltan doesn’t delight in great twists or turns that will surprise its audience. Its power is that it unfolds exactly as one might expect, and yet it’s impossible to turn away from.   Both filmmaker and viewer become passive onlookers, willing success upon Chul-Ho and his family, but unable to do anything to help him, even as he continues to spiral downward in a tailspin of hopelessness and helplessness. This tone helps the film take a general stance, even as it deals with the specifics of one family, and serves Yu’s greater points about life in post-war Korea. Even at their most heroic, ultimately, the characters are powerless to succeed “their way”. Surrounded by foreigners, they must adapt as Myong-Suk does, even if it compromises their morals and values.

At times difficult to watch, Obaltan is nevertheless considered one of the masterpieces of Korean cinema, and rightfully so. Although indebted to Italian Neo-Realism in its focus on the mundane and downtrodden, Obaltan is all the more heart wrenching for Chul-Ho, Yong-Ho, and the others struggling valiantly against the tidal waves of their stations and situations.   A strong story, emotionally-charged acting, and one of Korea’s finest directors at the helm combine to make Obaltan an excellent film that transcends its similarities to Neo-Realism, and becomes something unique and powerful.

A full link to the film (Korean with English subtitles) is available on YouTube.

Fight the Strong, Protect the Weak (Seven Samurai Review)

Seven Samurai (1954), a film by legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, is widely regarded as one of the most influential and powerful films of its time—and perhaps there this some truth in this view. This film was made earlier on in Kurosawa’s career and helped him, along with a few of his actors, on their rise to international recognition. Driving this film in particular is its cinematography, showing themes through subtle detail, such as focus.

What kind of film is Seven Samurai? To call it merely an action movie would not do it justice, since though the plot of the film revolves around the impending action, the majority of the movie is not contained in the relatively short action sequences. The movie plays out much more like a drama, centering itself around the three main characters: Katsushiro (Isao Kimura), a young, aspiring samurai, Kambei (Takeshi Shimura), an old and wizened samurai, and Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune), a samurai of questionable legitimacy.  The actors in this film help to carry it through, with particularly strong performances from Mifune and Shimura, both of whom are known for their work in collaboration with earlier Kurosawa films, such as Drunken Angel (1948), Stray Dog (1949), and Scandal (1950). The synergy between Mifune and Shimura helps to keeps the two characters dynamic and engaging throughout the three-and-a-half-hour film. Kurosawa makes no mistake in keeping them in-focus, both literally and metaphorically.  Though not every scene focuses on them, and in fact, characters like Katsushiro receive a fairly large amount of screen time, Kurosawa shows their well-developed and influential characters through his camerawork whenever they are around, giving the actors the chance to show what they are capable of.

Of course, there is only so much to be said for characters in a vacuum. The film’s basic plot involves a small village, which discovers that bandits plan to attack them in a few short months. Instead of fighting by themselves or surrendering their crops to the bandits (which would mean starvation), they come up with the plan to hire some samurai to help them defend their village. They go to a nearby village and manage to convince an older samurai, Kambei, to help them, even though the villagers cannot pay more than to feed the samurai during their stay. Kambei manages to pull together a rag-tag group of samurai to ward off the bandits.

As I previously mentioned, the film doesn’t concentrate on the bandit attack that acts as a catalyst for the villagers and samurai, but rather on the characters themselves. Kurosawa weaves philosophy seamlessly into the film, making it feel natural while still holding the powerful and thought-provoking effect it is capable of. Though the bandit attack certainly moves the plot along, it ends up being more a device to tell a tale of these samurai, the farmers, and how we act under pressure, rather than being a tale about a bandit attack. The film deals with themes spanning from duty and obligation to identity and classism.

The film is very long, running 207 minutes, but nothing feels out of place or unnecessary. Every scene is needed in its own way, with many shots telling a story beyond the dialogue or action in them. As Kurosawa is known for, his use of focus helps tell the story, which we can see throughout the film. In simple conversations, such as between the samurai and the village elder, the use of focus highlights who has power and who is important to the conversation. Whereas most directors keep only one part of the shot in-focus, Kurosawa will keep several different things in the shot, perhaps actors, perhaps props, in-focus, which also highlights the fact that much of the shot isn’t in-focus. Kurosawa’s mechanical ability in filmmaking contributes to this film’s critical acclaim and international success.

Kurosawa’s samurai film strays away from the genre of action movie, and moves more towards the genre of drama. Through his masterful cinematography and storytelling methods, he weaves a complex tale with very simple origins: how we should and do react under duress. Kurosawa’s philosophy is told here in a powerful way, and every element of the film contributes to it, especially the cinematography. Anyone can understand what happens on the surface, but to truly grasp the film requires a more careful look.

 

Works Cited:

Seven Samurai. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima. Toho Company. 1954. Film.

“Seven Samurai” Internet Movie Database, 2014. 7 Mar 2014.

Tokyo Story

Tokyo Story has an interesting legacy about it. American film critic Roger Ebert lists it as one of his “great movies,” BFI’s Sight and Sound includes it as number three in its most recent “Top 50 Films of All Time” of 2013, and it has seen similarly exceptional attention on an international stage. For its director, Yasujiro Ozu, it is regarded as his masterpiece. However, what makes the story of Tokyo Story so interesting is that its story is so very not-interesting. Rather than a film that relies on its plot to be particularly dramatic or enticing, Tokyo Story follows an elderly couple through a handful of everyday events. They visit their children and grandchildren, they make small talk, they muse over their activities for the day, and not much else. What the film relies on instead of an enticing story is just about everything else.

Despite the distinct lack of any truly noteworthy events within the film, the actors still manage to offer memorable dialogue. What can be learned about the characters is packed into the natural and ordinary decisions they make, in how the elderly couple treat their adult children and how those adult children treat their elderly parents. Some emotions and opinions are made clearer as the film plods along, but for the most part these aspects of the characters trickle out for the audience through actors’ subdued expressions and lines. The acting is only buffered by Ozu’s choice in camera technique.

Ozu uses “tatami shots” frequently throughout the film, where the camera is filming the scene from a lower angle, giving the impression that the audience is viewing the scene from the perspective of someone seated on tatami mat. The camera is kept at this “tatami shot” angle for much of the film, changing only occasionally to capture the faces of characters as they speak. This perspective and the stillness of the camera lend themselves to the film’s quiet and slow progression, placing the viewer not in the audience but bringing them into the everyday that Ozu explores.

Aside from the lack of anything interesting, what might be even more distinct than Ozu’s use of camera is his editing of scenes. To describe the experience of watching Tokyo Story as “in medias res” is correct yet not wholly accurate. It would be partially misleading to claim that there are very many “things” for the viewer to have been placed into, but at the same time Ozu leaves out some aspects of the story. At the very beginning of the film we find that the elderly couple are packing and preparing to go to Tokyo to visit their children and grandchildren, and in the very next scene we find them already there. The cuts themselves are also immediate, rather than fades or anything of the like. With Ozu’s choices in which scenes to include or exclude, one made seemingly arbitrarily with consideration to how little anything of real “interest” occurs, the sudden cuts can leave an unsuspecting audience taking some time to figure out exactly where they are.

Even though Tokyo Story is a critically acclaimed film throughout the world, Ozu’s various choices in editing and his distinctive style can create a polarizing experience for viewers. For those looking for a less complicated film for entertainment, your attentions might be better suited turned away from Tokyo Story. For those more inclined to watch a film and spend some time trying to figure out its message, Tokyo Story seems to be a film certainly worth the time to decode.

Film Review of Seven Samurai

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a film filled with action, love, sadness, and joy.  Scenes of the beautiful, lush countryside scenes of Japan are intermingled with shots of sword fighting and battlefields in a three-hour long epic that exhibits the idea that if someone has the power to protect something from harm, they have the responsibility to do so.

The movie opens with a village that is constantly being harassed by bandits, and is barely surviving.  When they finally see no other course of action, the villagers send some of their own to a nearby town to enlist the aid of a samurai.  Along their journey they meet an honorable samurai (played by Takashi Shimura) who helps them gather six more warriors before returning with them to the village.  While in the village, the samurai help the farmers defend themselves and ultimately join them in a confrontation with the bandits.

Released in 1954, Seven Samurai achieved worldwide fame by winning the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.  By this time, however, Kurosawa had already received acclaim for his 1950 film Rashomon.  Today, Kurosawa is considered to be a famous Japanese auteur, a director who imparts a unique mark on his or her films.  He is considered to be an influence on many other directors and films, ranging from Star Wars to The Magnificent Seven to many more.  The techniques and genius of Kurosawa can be seen by anyone who knows how to look for them, such as using the scenery of the area being filmed or occasionally breaking the rules of filming for an added effect.  Seven Samurai is a brilliant example of not just Kurosawa’s directing prowess, but also of his ability to tell a riveting story and convey a deeper meaning to the viewers of the film.

Much of this film’s charm comes from the characters, particularly the samurai, and how they interact and change with the world around them.  Characters such as Kikuchiyo, an enigmatic samurai whose past is a mystery (played by the famous Toshiro Mifune), add a comedic aspect to an otherwise serious film while characters such as Kyuzo, a silent but skilled warrior (played by Seiji Miyaguchi), add an element of action that many people would expect from a movie about samurai.  Even many of the villagers have unique personalities and clear motivations that affect the outcome of the film.  The varied array of characters in Seven Samurai keeps the film fresh and makes it easy for the viewer to find a favorite character, augmenting the experience of watching the movie.

Another aspect of the film that showcases its quality is the mise en scene.  The costumes of the characters differentiate them and subtly describe them.  The villagers are dressed in rags and are occasionally seen dirty from work.  The samurai, however, are dressed in traditional outfits that clearly show that they are of a higher class.  This dichotomy is important as one of the major themes of the film is the dynamics between classes.

The scenes involving the samurai not only display their outfits, but often include multiple samurai at once.  In one scene, a shot of three of the samurai is seen and then in the next shot, three of the other samurai are seen in another part of the room.  This type of shot in which the samurai are grouped together can be seen many times throughout the film and conveys their unity and combined strength.

Seven Samurai has many good qualities and often gets placed in lists of best movies of all time.  While some people may think that the film is only for people who are interested in Japanese culture and history or in “action-packed” films, there is much more to this film than that.  Its themes of helping people who cannot help themselves and of the interactions between high and low class people are worldwide themes and can be understood by anybody.

References:

Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. US: Pearson, 2012. Print.

Seven Samurai. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Columbia, 1954. Film.

“Seven Samurai.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

Film Review: Hana-Bi

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Takeshi Kitano, director of Hana-Bi, is one of the most well-known Japanese directors in the world. Hana-Bi, was released in 1998, and was awarded Leone d’Oro in the Venice Film Festival. Kitano is involved in the film not only as the director, but also as a protagonist acting by Beat Takeshi (Kitano’s stage name).

This movie is about a police-man, Nishi (played by Kitano), and his feelings of guilt because he blames himself for the injuries and the death of his coworkers. Nishi lost his daughter in the past, and he is living with his wife who is suffering from leukemia. A yakuza, Japanese gangster, insists that Nishi pays back a large amount of money which he borrowed from them in order to take care of his wife and to buy gifts for his injured coworker Horibe and a widow of another who died in the line of duty. After Nishi quits his job, he commits bank robbery to get money and goes on a trip with his wife. At the end of the trip, Nishi decides to end his dead-end life by committing suicide with his wife.

The title, Hanabi, means fireworks in Japanese, but Kitano separates the words into two parts Hana-Bi (花:Hana and 火:Bi). Hana means flower and Bi means fire in Japanese, and this unique title can be seen in Nishi’s characteristics: considerate and violent.

Throughout the story, Kitano effectively uses music composed by Joe Hisaishi for the film. Joe Hisaishi is one of the most notable composers in Japan, and his amazing music has been used in many famous dramas and movies such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli movies. The music provokes a nostalgic and lonesome atmosphere in the film, and it matches each character’s agony and situations in the story. Since most of characters, especially Nishi and his wife, do not speak much in the film, the music considerably helps viewers detect the mood of each scene and how each person is feeling.

There are also many shots of Japanese traditions and specialties, but Nishi breaks many of the rules which Japanese people generally follow. For instance, Kitano uses shots of Mr. Fuji, a temple, Japanese garden, cherry blossom tree, winter fireflies, stone stature of Jizo, a Japanese-style hotel, and a traditional kite. These shots are stereotypical “Japanese” images especially for foreigners watching the film. On the other hand, Nishi (Kitano) disrupted a traditional Japanese garden by falling down on the beautifully designed gravel. These nonstandard behaviors give viewers both stereotypical imagery of Japan and a non-stereotypical Japanese persona who breaks the social and cultural order.

Kitano uses many drawings in the film, and some of them were drawn by Kitano himself. The drawings vary, one including the combination of plants and animals, another a very colorful picture of dragons, some Japanese woodblock prints, and so on. Kitano uses very specific and unique Japanese woodblock prints in this film. For example, in the scene where a yakuza holds a meeting in a bar about their money, there is a Japanese woodblock print on the wall. The Japanese woodblock print depicts two men: a normal man wearing traditional clothing and a man whose face is skeletal. The skeletal face conveys the coldness and dreadful inside of human-beings, just like a yakuza’s inhumanity.

Considering the derailed artistic touches in this movie, Hana-Bi can be seen not only as a story about a police-man’s agonized life, but also as an artistic work, which appeals to the audience though its significance and power of non-verbal expression. Kitano efficiently uses the music, traditions of Japan, and classic Japanese drawings to convey what actors cannot communicate though their behavioral acting. At the same time, he injects a fresh and unique essence into these artistic works and creates a different kind of world in the film. This movie has many Japanese artistic and traditional elements in it, but also, surprisingly breaks some stereotypical “Japanese” imagery, which many viewers would not expect to see in a Japanese film.