Nishi is a cop whose wife is slowly dying of leukemia. One of his partners gets shot on the job, which results in him being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life and becoming suicidal. Nishi, feeling guilty of his partner's accident, tries to help him in any way he can. At the same time, Nishi leaves the police to spend more time with his dying wife. However, in order to do the right things for those he loves, Nishi must do something wrong, which has tragic consequences. Written by
"Hana-Bi" is well-known as being Kitano's most critically acclaimed and iconic film to date, and with good reason. Despite a backlog of excellent films ("Violent Cop", "Sonatine", "A Scene By The Sea", etc), the reason "Hana-Bi" stands out as arguably the finest is that it so beautifully captures a personal time in Kitano's life and blends some of the more eloquent features of his persona not heavily represented in his other works. That title alone; "Hana-Bi" (In Japanese, combining 'fireworks' with 'sunflower') represents an almost poetic change in Kitano cinema, conveying a combination of sub-meanings and representations making the film strongly multi-layered with many possibilities for interpretation.
Kitano gives one of the best performances in his career as Nishi, the hardened cop looking after his dieing wife. Despite his stone-cold exterior and tendencies to explode in a violent rage, he is nonetheless a weak, broken, and tired man, haunted by some colleague's recent deaths and injuries and daunted by his wife's nearing death. Kitano is able to convey such an emotional stretch with sincerity, making this 'man of few words' one who the audience nevertheless bonds with throughout the film.
The supporting players are excellent. Kitano regulars; Susumu Terajima and Ren Osugi give exceptional performances as troubled men in an emotionally crumbling world. Osugi, in particular, plays the disabled Detective Horibe with such intensity and unfathomable depth. The numerous scenes of Horibe seated infront of Kitano's token sea-view, staring silently with Joe Hisaishi's fantastic score soaring over the top conveys more emotion and moves the audience to tears in a way words never could. It is this which makes Kitano such an incredible director, of not just Japan, but contemporary cinema as well. His dialogue is irregular, yet powerful, and his distinctive taste of visual style combined with beautiful music and emotionally rich characters creates further emotional intensity within film, powerful cinema which is undoubtedly absent in recent Hollywood works.
I have read that Kitano films are an acquired audience taste, and not suited to everyone. That maybe true with more shocking films such as "Violent Cop", but if you've not yet experienced the undeniable magic of a Kitano film, where better to start than the very best? It is certainly a film which needs to be viewed many times, as although the first time will leave you stunned, watching the film further allows you to notice more subtle qualities, as well as experience the film again.
In closing, I hope that wider audiences will experience the power of Kitano's work, and in particular, "Hana-Bi" It is a film unlike any other you will see, and no review can do it justice. You must see it for yourselves.
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