Category Archives: HANA-BI

Film Review: Hana-Bi


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.

Hana-bi Review

hana-biAt the end of the movie,  Nishi and his wife sitting at the sea.

Hana-bi was directed by the Japanese film director and actor Kitano Takeshi. In 1997 Hana-bi earned Kitano a Golden Lion (Venice International Film Festival).It is a film with violence and caring, about a Japanese policeman who went on a trip with his sick wife.

The main plot of the film is that the protagonist, acted by the director Kitano Takeshi, took his wife to a trip to northern Japan. On the way there, they were followed by both police and gangsters because he suddenly left his position and did not pay all the money he owed gangsters. During the trip, he not only fought with gangsters but also took good care of his sick wife, not only indicating his violent,  but his caring and loving nature.

The protagonist changes his action frequently from violent and stoic to calm and caring. He seems to act as a psychopath. His acting is very unemotional when he counters with the gangsters, but sometimes he is calm and caring to his wife and colleagues. Sometimes he even behaves like a kid when he is staying with his wife, showing his naughtiness and humor. He uses violence with gangsters because they still chase after him even after he has paid his debt to them. He himself is an important conflict in this film. Stroked by the fact that his wife is seriously ill and his colleague is shot during one mission, he takes all the responsibilities on his own shoulder, and gradually becomes irrational. Kitano Takeshi’s outstanding acting successfully demonstrates the complex character, frequently shifting from caring to violent and making both personalities believable.

Besides the main story line, Takeshi used a non-mainstream editing method which is different from the classic Hollywood style of continuity editing. He used non-linear cuts nearly throughout the movie, which makes the film more difficult to be understood. Although it was not as hard as Memento, another film that also used a lot of unclear cuts , Hana-bi still requires the audience’s patience and attention to bring the plot together.

Hisaishi Joe provided great pieces of music for this film as well. Because the characters seldom talk in this movie, music becomes one of the most important ways to show their state of mind especially for the protagonist’s wife. She only said one sentence: “Thank you” to her husband during the entire movie; all the shots that she shows up in need music to express her emotion. For example, when they are on the way to northern Japan, normally they don’t speak to each other, but the non-diegetic music was often a quiet, slow-paced piano or violin tune, which shows Hisashi’s outstanding ability of expressing the character’s state of mind.

The title of this film, Hana-bi, means fireworks. Although the fireworks only showed for a brief time in the film, it could be divided into two single words: fire and flower. Normally these two things will never exist together, but in Japanese, it means fireworks; fireworks are not only like a beautiful flower blossom, but a violent explosion in the sky. The protagonist, his wife, human beings—in fact, everything could be Hana-bi. It is not only rude and violent, but beautiful and calm.