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
The Japanese title translates into 'Fireworks", but if you look further into the basis of the Japanese character for 'fireworks', you will see that it is composed of two smaller words - 'fire' and 'flower'. And like the linguistic basis of the title, the story and style of "Hana-Bi" is the synthesis of two opposing images, one being an agent of destruction, and the other a symbol of birth and renewal. See more »
It took at least three repeat viewings of this film before I felt I was ready to review it here on IMDB. The first time I played the DVD I felt a strange sense of detachment as I tried to absorb what had been played out before me.
Kitano plays a detective with huge burdens on his shoulders. His wife, Miyuki) is dying from cancer, a trusted partner & friend (Horibe) is in a wheelchair with nothing to occupy his mind other than to paint landscapes & think about suicide now that his wife & family have deserted him. And to cap it all during an undercover operation headed by Kitano a young detective (Tanaka) is mortally shot & killed because of a blunder on Kitano's part.
Having been subsequently kicked out of the policeforce, Kitano has to cope not only with the loss his job (and income) but to come to terms with his guilt regarding the dead detective, Tanaka, his emotional feelings & absent love for Miyuki as she sees out her last few weeks. And finally, Kitano has a great deal of sympathy & loyalty to his former partner & friend crippled in a wheelchair.
In typical Kitano fashion he decides to rob a bank, pay off his debts to the local Yakuza warlords and spend the rest of the money on his crippled friend, Horibe; Tanaka's young widow and Kitano's dying wife.
Being a big fan of Kitano I wasn't disappointed by the style of the movie. His directional trademarks are visible through most of his films: flowers, beach scenes, picturesque landscapes, beautiful & haunting music (by the ever dependable Jo Hisaishi); face-to-camera shots and of course a sense of helplessness & defeatism within the lead actors themselves.
But what I wasn't quite prepared for was the melodrama & pathos the film revealed to me. Unlike most of his other "gangster/police" movies such as Brother, Sonatine & Violent Cop, the violence seems secondary to the moving, sometimes harrowing scenes of Kitano & Miyuki holidaying together, trying to relive some of their past love & passion for each but only to find there is nothing but loss & grief.
Kitano shows a great range of emotions in this film: from being a tough & very unforgiving man with his dealings with the Yakuza (the violence is sharp, sudden & very graphic). While at other times he is a man totally lost in a world of sorrow & pity, a man who finds it hard to grieve, to own up to his mistakes & guilt, a man who only now realises how much he will miss his wife after spending so many years staying away & not appreciating her needs whilst doing his job in the police.
The ending is absolutely gut-wrenching, but to be honest it was of no real surprise since there are similar outcomes in most of Kitano's films, especially Violent Cop & Sonatine.
The cinematography is absolutely outstanding, coupled with the haunting score of Jo Hisaishi (who also did the score for my favourite Kitano film, Sonatine). Kitano's direction is also beautifully paced with very tight editing & not a single shot is wasted.
The acting as well, is top drawer. Nothing needs to be said about Kitano's performance because it is that good. But the support from Kayoko Kishimoto (Miyuki), Ren Osugi (Horibe) & Yûko Daike (Tanaka's widow) is truly excellent and never weighs the movie down with too much manufactured & false melodrama so typical of Hollywood (especially movies starring Robin Williams).
As I said at the beginning of this review I had to see this film at least three times before I felt compelled to write about it, such is the power & strength within this film. Kitano's humanity is very redeeming & reveals to our Western eyes the true values of Japanese tradition & family relationships, especially with regards loyalty, friendship, love & coming to terms with one's guilt.
I recommend this film to anyone who takes an interest in movies of this kind. It may appear to drag at times, and some of the shots seems uneven & redundant on first viewing. But give it a chance because after about the second or third view more & more of the film's inner strengths will brim to the surface leaving you aghast & begging for more.
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