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More extraordinarily stunning cinema by Takeshi Kitano
Bogey Man18 August 2002
Hana-bi (1997) is Japanese film maker Takeshi Kitano's masterpiece along his Sonatine (1993). Hana-bi reminds me pretty much of his more recent film, Brother (2000), which still has much more humor and positivism in it. Those who have experienced Sonatine may ask can a film be even more beautiful and brilliant, but Hana-bi is at least as masterful, if also different. The film stars again the director himself as Nishi, a police man who learns his wife suffers from some extremely lethal disease which has taken her speech, too. She is going to die soon, and all Nishi has in his mind is to make his wife's last weeks as enjoyable and nice as possible. He is forced to deal with Yakuza in order to get some money for her medical care and other plans he has for her last days, and that leads of course to troubles with the gangsters as Nishi isn't able to pay back his loans. Nishi's partner is another tragic character, who is shot and paralyzed for the rest of his life during one shoot out. Also one of Nishi's partners is shot dead in a scene, which belongs to the film's most powerful scenes and it is shown as a flashback, in the usual silent and symbolic style of the director. What follows is all the great elements we've learned to wait from this artist from one of the greatest cinema lands in the world, Japan.

Hana-bi is almost unbearably sad and emotional, and its most tragic character is Horibe, the partner who is paralyzed and totally abandoned by his wife and children after he loses his ability to move and be like his used to. The scenes in which Horibe tells to Nishi about his loneliness and that everyone has left him are extremely powerful and really make think about the values of one's own life for the second time. Horibe finds some kind of way to express his sadness through art and painting, and he gets a great gift from Nishi, one of his last friends who understands him and would never leave him like the others did.

The shoot out flashback is also one memorable segment in this film, and it is in its slow motion one of the most beautiful, yet shocking depictions of violence ever possible. Hana-bi has some very strong scenes of violence, and it all erupts again as rapidly as always in Takeshi's films. Weak souls resort to violence very often, and the result is always just more violence, death, depravity and pain, both physical and emotional. I will stress again that those who think Takeshi's cinema is gratuitously violent (or Japanese cinema in general, i.e. the work of Takashi Miike and Ishii) miss the whole point as his films absolutely never glorify violence or present it as a noteworthy tool; his films analyze violence and show many aspects of it, without hiding or embellishing anything. His films are as important in this level as they are in cinematic element level as some of his usual trademarks are absolutely unique and stunning, and Hana-bi is definitely not an exception.

The music is again by Joe Hisaishi, who composed Takeshi's films Sonatine and Brother plus some others. The soundtrack in Hana-bi is again one key element of the film, and it is perhaps closer to Brother's than Sonatine's, but still all these three films have unique and masterful soundtrack which is full of emotions. The greatest element of all, however, in Hana-bi are the paintings by the director himself, who painted them after his nearly fatal motorcycle accident in 1994. They are stunningly beautiful and staggering as they combine different types of nature's beauty in very unique way. The animals combined with flowers are so wonderfully effective and their power is taken even further by the music. This symbolism creates so powerful experience that it almost requires the viewer to cry for the characters, but also for the cinematic magic this director has created.

The usual wry humor of Takeshi is almost completely missing in Hana-bi, but there are some little bits, which are still in right places and work as fine as they always do. Still, this is the most inconsolable film of Takeshi, and be sure to watch the whole film the end credits included, since there's one extremely purifying image coming, in the tradition of the finale in Brother. Despite Hana-bi being so sad and harrowing, the very end is again very relieving and belongs among the greatest endings of all time. Another film with similar ultra-powerful image at the end is Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, another masterpiece from the 90's.

I just cannot imagine loving some other film maker's work more than Takeshi's, and he is among the greatest cinematic artist I know, and it is not a surprise he's from Japan, since Asian film makers are usually the most personal and stunning and don't have any restrictions for their work like in Hollywood film makers usually have as they have to keep the ratings and commercial things in mind. Fortunately Takeshi has been able to do his films completely free, and I really hope he can continue it for many years to come. Hana-bi is his brightest masterpiece. 10/10 immortal cinema.
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Great Kitano!
Witchfinder-General-66619 January 2007
Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-bi" aka. "Fireworks" of 1997 is sad, funny, violent and melancholic and, alongside his 1989 debut "Violent Cop", my personal choice for his best work. Hardly ever have I seen a movie which is this memorable and unique in both its tragic and its funny moments, as it is the case with this great film.

I am a big fan of director Takeshi Kitano, who also stars in the leading part (as 'Beat' Takeshi) in this, and "Hana-bi" is my personal favorite of his movies.

Yoshitaka Nishi (Kitano) is a mostly calm, but occasionally irascible and ultra-violent cop, whose wife Miyuki (Kayoko Kishimoto) is terminally ill of leukemia. After his partner Horibe (Ren Osugi) is wounded, and another police officer is killed, Nishi decides to quit his job at the police and spend more time with his dying wife. In order to help Horibe, who is now in a wheelchair, and the dead police officer's widow, and in order to make the remaining time as comfortable as possible for his wife, Nishi, who also owes money to the Yakuza, needs money and he is determined to acquire it.

Not only is Kitano a gantastic a writer and director, his acting performance in "Hana-Bi" is also superb. Nobody else could have played the role of Nishi with such brilliance as 'Bito' Takeshi Kitano, who rarely says a word in the first half of the film and is (nevertheless or therefore) absolutely impressive in his role of the cop with the constant poker face, which typical for Kitano. By the way, the impressionist and very original pictures which are shown occasionally throughout the movie were also painted by Kitano himself. The rest of the performances are also very good, Ren Osugi delivers a particularly memorable performance as Horibe, Nishi's partner who is struck by fate and has to live in a wheel chair, and Kayoko Kishimoto is great in the lovable role of Nishi's dying wife.

Fantastic cneimatography and Kitano's typical way of patiently drawing out some scenes while showing abrupt outbursts of violence with stamina that makes them hurt as well as his unique talent for the combination of tragic and comical elements make this one of his greatest achievements. Highly recommended!
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A masterpiece!
Infofreak6 July 2002
'Hana-bi' is one of the most impressive movies I've seen in the last ten years. Writer/director/star Beat Takeshi (Takeshi Kitano) is best known in Japan as a comedian and TV personality, so this movie is even more astonishing to outsiders like myself. Takeshi has a very laconic and charismatic screen presence, and is no slouch as a director either. It's difficult to describe the feel of this movie, and its poetic use of violence. Peckinpah's brilliant and misunderstood 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia' comes to mind, as does Cassavetes' 'The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie', Ferrara's 'King Of New York' and 'Bad Lieutenant'. 'Hana-bi' reminds me of those movies but Takeshi adds his own unique voice to the material. I was knocked out by it, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to movie fans who are fascinated by the relationship between art and violence. I don't think calling this movie a masterpiece is an exaggeration. Absolutely essential viewing!
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A breath of fresh air. It's rare poetry -- a sentient piece with unflinching strength. MUST SEE for film appreciation buff.
ruby_fff9 May 1999
It's lyrical poetry: sensitive, eloquent, visual, hard and soft edges simultaneously, and sparing dialog. There's no need to tell all -- all is conveyed in the paintings presented, in the words spoken by supporting characters, in facial expressions and gestures. It's minimal -- nothing's gratuitous. The story is told mostly visually, unhurried, not even a hold-up scene -- that feels leisurely, too.

It's a story about a cop, miles apart from Hollywood commercial productions. The treatment writer-director Kitano delivered is unlike any seen before. The central character, Nishi, he has guts to live or to die. "He's a darn good cop," Horibe his partner confirmed. (Horibe, whose poignantly restrained performance by Ren Osugi, is more than just a supporting role in the film). Nishi has two close partners: one (Tanaka) died in action and left a widow, the other crippled in action and confined to a wheelchair. His wife Miyuki (a wonderfully quiet performance from Kayoko Kishimoto) is in the hospital; she's been ill for two years; their daughter died earlier. These details are given to us through casual conversations from supporting characters and flashback memories reflecting Nishi's constantly attentive mind in spite of his mostly blank face.

He's a caring man. But when he is ignited, incensed by injustice or anyone's action or words that get in his way, his reaction is the other extreme of his subdued gentleness inside: an unhesitating steady strike or continuous multiple blows, or "emptying his bullets into a corpse." He has a lot of pent-up emotions ready to explode. Nishi is an honorable man; he felt responsible for the misfortunes that occurred to his two partners. Perhaps it's guilt; he has to do something to amend the situation. There are crime depictions, including Yakuza related segments. His physical reactions to thugs are unflinching to the point of brutal yet they are essentially graphic -- at times in powerful silence.

He's a pensive man -- we can tell he's constantly thinking. There are occasional comic relieving pauses: we see him taking a moment and even breaking into a smile, e.g., when he beckons to play ball with the two workers on the street while at a stake out; his brief exchange with the junkyard owner was revealing. It's all paced in good measure.

It's a quiet film yet strong and deep, filled with human frailties and vulnerable situations. The relationship between he and his wife is beyond words. There are little mutual gestures between the two of them -- so much is expressed silently. Sometimes it's straight to the point short questions from Nishi to his wife -- and this could be delivered to us in voice-overs. The camera gives us serene scenic landscapes: seaside view with a horizon -- waves rolling in being a repeated theme; snow scenes; a temple with a big bell and a few wandering cats. It also embraces the paintings and still lifes (e.g., a wooden puzzle game and two dessert plates on a table), giving us deliberate meaningful close-ups. In HANA-BI, silence speaks louder than effects of any kind.

The film touches on aspects of life and living -- relationships of working partners, husband and wife, and being human. It's a canvas Kitano thoughtfully creatively painted on film -- broad strokes, little poignant details here and there, vibrant solid colors and imageries. Words are sparse. Simple and yet not at all simple. It could be evident that perhaps he did it all for love? His love for his wife certainly shows. Throughout the film, his face seemed void of emotions -- hardly flinches -- and in the end, possibly a flinch or two did cross his face. Perhaps he's resigned to fate?

The music by Jo Hisaishi at times is reminiscent of European film scores, e.g., flowing tune following a car leisurely cruising along the seaside road at some Riviera of Italy or Southern France. It complements the story in soothing tempo from beginning to end. Kitano's "FIREWORKS" is in perfect cadence -- an excellent piece of film expression. A rare gem.
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Didn't completely love it, but I can see it sticking with me
Jeremy_Urquhart9 July 2020
It was frustrating at first- I couldn't work out what the plot was, wasn't really caring for the characters, and didn't know whether it was in non-chronological order or not. At a point, I unconsciously stopped worrying about those things, and started to enjoy it more. It felt less about having a conventional narrative and more about simply evoking some powerful- yet sorta hard to describe- emotions. The visuals are largely great and go a long way in making the film oddly beautiful and hypnotic, and the musical score is outstanding. I could see myself really liking this on a rewatch at some point, when I know what I'm in for, and therefore aware of the best mood to experience such a film in.
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One of the Best Drama's Anywhere.
Sonatine975 January 2002
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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Brutally Poetic and Beautifully Summing Up Rage, Wounded Love and Loneliness; "Hana- bi" Is Perfect Cinema
Det_McNulty5 March 2007
Takeshi Kitano, the actor and director of Hana-bi certainly has left an imprint on Asian cinema. Managing to differ between playing brutal, yet sensitive characters to directing films centred on hard-boiled, "cops vs. criminals" plots. Takeshi Kitano remains one of the finest actors in cinema, most film viewers were introduced to his acting after watching Battle Royale, which has had a huge effect of his recognition. He is an actor who can bury himself deep inside a role, becoming a dark, disillusioned character and being cast as characters who are usually coming to terms with the guilt of their past. Well known for his deadpan style he has developed into an icon of modern Asian cinema.

Hana-bi is the haunting, powerful, thoughtful tale of a severe police officer who retires from the force after his wife gets leukaemia and a fellow officer gets paralysed from an accident that he blames himself for. The film follows the tragedy and self-destruction in the man's life who wants to help the people he loves before it is too late. The narrative of Hana-bi is one that moves with a fairly slow grace, perfectly suiting the film's mood and structuring a detailed and enigmatically twisted plot.

Hana-bi is a prime example of minimalist film-making, providing a poetic journey of self-discovery and accepting the effects of anger. Hana-bi is far from an aggressive film, even though the violence is stark, abrupt, restrained, brutal, unflinching and at times strangely beautiful in its film techniques. The literal translation of the title "Hana-bi" translates to fireworks, which is a metaphor for the brief explosion of life we live. The pensive feel is relaxing rather than brooding, flooded by sudden flashbacks of violence, which wonderfully grab the viewer's attention. There is also an element of dark humour paced throughout the film, which makes you laugh, but also makes you ponder the film's deep philosophical, moralistic and nihilistic imagery.

The acting from the entire cast is stunningly provocative and moving, edged with the factor of such a brilliant script, yet it is a film that does not rely on language as a key factor. Few performances have moved me with such provoking and eventually challenging studies of human characteristics, emotion and psychology. The metaphorical, subliminal and emblematic cinematography is marvellous at carefully capturing some of the most unforgettable imagery in cinema. The haunting score is truly remarkable n its aching sophistication and elegance, ultimately helping define a clear atmosphere. It is undoubtedly a pessimistic film on the surface, although still being a film that holds hope under the façade.

Hana-bi is perfect cinema. Few films come quite as close to its breathtaking brilliance and overwhelming nature. Sublime, in every sense of the word, its beauty will knock you right out.
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Too slow and "deep" at times but mostly emotionally engaging and impacting
bob the moo13 July 2008
Nishi is a cop who is very good at his job but whose personal life is impacted with loss – a dead child and now a dying wife. When his partner is put in a wheelchair by a criminal and another officer is shot dead, Nishi finds himself plagued by guilt over his part in it all. Blaming himself Nishi tries to do the right thing by his partner Horibe and the widow of cop, while also trying to salvage some happiness in what remains of his time with his wife.

I came back to Takeshi Kitano about the same time as I left the Movies You Should See podcast. I left it because I don't think it is as good as it could be and at times offers no real insight into a film other than describing "bits" however I give them a mention because they reminded me that I had only ever seen one or two of Kitano's films and that it had been some time since I had even seen those. So it was that after watching Brother, my rental site threw me Hana-Bi and I was looking forward to it due to the praise on this site and indeed the podcast itself. The expectation was not unjustified as Hana-Bi is a film of pain and beauty that is well worth seeing even if it is not the image of perfection that some would have you believe.

That statement is bound to attract a low vote on IMDb but what can I tell you? That it was slow and quiet is not a problem for me but it is a feeling you get watching the film and it is not helped by some scenes feeling irrelevant within the context of the story. This is not a real killer but I felt that the slow pace needed support and seeing two minor characters argue about a fender bender (for example) saw my interest dip and the slow pace start to be felt. Otherwise though, the silence and pace suits the material and the style of the film. The violence is quite subdued (in regards what you actually see) because it occurs in the edit of the action – so the actual impact is mostly unseen. It doesn't matter though because the main thrust of the film is less the outward violence but the internal suffering of all the characters. The film does wear this aspect a little heavily at times and some will feel that some sequences are right on the edge of being pretentious and there is no point in denying that it does walk this line here and there.

However for the majority it is a really well observed and emotionally engaging story built on the silent but emotive presence of Kitano as writer, director and star. As writer he has, it could be argued, left a lot to the actual making process itself since the script must have been a few pages. As director he sets the pace and I like the way his static style works within this story but it is his work as actor that always mystifies and impresses me. How he can convey so much while also appearing to be doing nothing at all I'm not sure but it somehow works and fits his style in other disciplines. He is well supported by Kishimoto, with whom he has genuine chemistry without betraying his character's nature. Osugi is not that great and it is with his character that I found the film close to being pretentious, not the actor's fault of course but I never felt for him as I did for Nishi.

Hana-Bi is very slow and quiet and I can totally understand why some viewers will throw it in very early on. However sticking with it reveals a film that manages to be violent, introspective and emotionally engaging at the same time, all wrapped in the style of Kitano, who is creative across the board.
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A Japanese masterpiece
darth_sidious13 January 2001
Kitano's Hana-bi is something quite special, a film where images of violence and beauty are juxtaposed. The violence is deadly, but certainly not gratuitous or pointless. The beauty is the love story, the happiness between a cop and his wife.

There are 3 main stories in the picture, each one given the time it deserves. The film is beautiful to watch, the camera work is slick and amazing.

The direction is faultless and no frame is wasted. The film's images speak out, they are very powerful. The long silences add so much to the film, the director really knew what he was doing.

The screenplay is almost in the shadow of the awe-inspiring images, but does give the picture a deserving foundation!

The performances are 101% perfect, very authentic!

The film's musical score is beautiful, it feels very isolated from the images which only adds to the raw ambience, it's perfect!

This is a Japanese masterpiece, see it in wide-screen!
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A collision of beauty and destruction
ackstasis14 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Takeshi Kitano's 'Hana-Bi' is something of an oddity. True to his previous efforts as director, the film contains its fair share of shockingly-graphic violence, and yet at its heart lies a touching tale of love, loyalty and devotion. For the entire running time, Kitano (who, aside from directing, also wrote and starred in the film) treads a perilously fine line between the two thematic extremes; it is an intricate balancing act that, if attempted by a less-talented filmmaker, might very possibly have turned into a complete cinematic disaster. Nevertheless, the director manages to pinpoint this perfect centre of balance, and the clash of beauty and violence combines to create a jarring amalgamation of conflicting emotional responses. We, as the audience, as simultaneously repulsed and entranced; as a whole, 'Hana-bi' is one of the most beautiful film experiences of the last decade or so.

The title of the film itself acknowledges these opposing visual styles. Whilst the Japanese word 'Hanabi' translates to 'Fireworks' (the title under which it was released in the United States), the addition of the hyphen to the title ('Hana-bi') emphasises two individual components of the word, which translate respectively into "Fire" and "Flower," the collision of destruction and beauty/renewal. Much of the film concerns a cop named Yoshitaka Nishi (Kitano), who is forced to retire after a shooting on the job leaves his partner, Horibe (Ren Osugi), paralysed, alone and confined to a wheelchair. All the while, Nishi is still coming to terms with the impending loss of his wife, Miyuki (Kayoko Kishimoto), who is slowly dying from leukemia. As any grieving husband might do in such a situation, Nishi decides to quietly rob a bank, and he then uses most of the proceeds to fund a final loving family holiday for his ailing partner.

The scenes between Nishi and his wife are among the most touching I've ever witnessed. Miyuki has only two lines in the entire film, and so the couple spend most of their time in complete silence and quiet reflection, and yet you can truly sense the affection that they both have for each other. Their love is completely unspoken, and this makes it all the more touching when Miyuki does finally speak. Another touching character is Horibe, the loyal police force partner whose crippling injury leaves him alone and depressed. After attempting suicide, Horibe receives painting materials in the mail, and he commits his emotions to canvas, finally uncovering a reason for his continued existence (importantly, the artwork we see in the film was actually created by Kitano in 1994, after a near-fatal motorcycle accident). The film's phenomenally moving soundtrack was composed by renowned Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, in his fourth collaboration with the director.

There are very few negative criticisms that can be said of 'Hana-bi.' One possible item is that the film's unusual flashback structure made some plot-points difficult to follow, and I'm still unsure of which cop's lonesome widow Nishi was in the habit of visiting. However, that's the only critique that springs straight to mind. All in all, 'Hana-bi' is a gloriously assorted blend of violence, love and gentle humour, and a first viewing is not likely to be forgotten in a hurry.
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Drop Dead.
hitchcockthelegend8 March 2015
Hana-bi (AKA: Fireworks) is written and directed by Takeshi Kitano. It stars Kitano, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi and Susumu Terajima. Music is by Joe Hisaishi and cinematography by Hideo Yamamoto.

Yoshikata Nishi (Kitano) is a loose cannon police detective who quits the force after a tragic incident results in his partner, Horibe (Osugi), being confined to a wheelchair. His retirement brings him the time to care more for his seriously ill wife Miyuki (Kishimoto). Nishi can find no peace, though, more so as he has borrowed money from the Yakuza to pay for his wife's needs, and they are growing impatient for the repayment...

Very early in Kitano's superb slice of Japanese neo-noir there is a piece of graffiti on the wall, it says "Drop Dead", while Hisaishi's music is a devilish accompaniment to the scene. It's ominous and foreboding, setting the tone for what is to follow. Pic is deliberately paced, beautifully so, with the opening nonlinear approach and scattergun shifts in time adding a sort of psychological maelstrom to the impending narrative darkness.

Yet to suggest it as a perpetually bleak picture is doing it a small disservice, for Kitano (himself working from a damaged psyche that occurred in real life) has this adroit eye for poetic beauty and human tenderness that marries up with bursts of violence and emotionally shattering passages of play. And it works brilliantly, with stabs of humour also filtering in via the outer frames.

Nishi the character is a force of nature and a walking - brooding - contradiction, a man pained behind his sunglasses, his expressionless visage amazingly still saying so much. When he explodes the impact is doubly strong, mainly because dialogue is so sparse, but the interwoven visuals - very much a Kitano speciality - strike an almighty chord for the story. To which we edge towards the finale, which unsurprisingly brings beauty and infinite sadness.

Unfussy camera work, sabre sharp editing (Kitano & Yoshinori Oota), elegiacal musical arrangements, art, kites and Kitano's intense performance, this rounds out as film making greatness. In fact, a masterpiece. 10/10
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Bad Fuse
tedg19 September 2005
There are two challenges in building a life with the help of art.

The first challenge is the matter of finding good art, sorting it out from background noise. Good art is a communication from a transcendent place through a person or group with the skills to deliver it coherently. This is rare enough. All good craftsmen think they are artists and sell themselves that way.

This film is a work of art. Yes, quirky. Yes, some elements are clumsy. He has some paintings he wants us to see, so he shoehorns in a suicidal painter. He needs a suicidal painter, so he...

But we tolerate these misfits because the nature of the story follows the Japanese gangster movie convention of being a bunch of borrowed quotes from elsewhere. Borrowing these from Takeshi's artistic world is as fair as from the pop vocabulary. All these projects reference the outside.

So this is good art. It resonates. I recommend you look at it.

But the second challenge with art is deciding how to relate to it, to use it to build your mind, to work and extend your imagination. You are what you eat artistically. I cannot eat this.

No, it is not the violence. Violence in film is merely cinematic tension, to be used like smoke. It is the world that matters. Art is a gateway to a world and you have to be disposed to the target: can you use it? Will it help?

What's wrong here is that this the flip side of noir. Noir defines a world of random pain, animated by some conspiracy between the viewer and a disembodied fate. But it comes from an intent of humorous exploration, capricious hazard but hazard for mischief, not deliberate pain. Its the deliberate pain we get here, the incessant grinding of the human spirit, and incidentally some valiant tolerance, but only incidentally.

If I clove this into my mind, I would be another half step closer to suicide myself. So watch it... from a distance.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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A Kitano film of unparalleled power and beauty
desky19733 April 2005
"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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the absolute tenderness of a violent man
dromasca27 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The main character in 'Hana-bi' is a very violent man. He is a cop, he fights crime, he lives among criminals, he reacts violently because of his profession, and because of the people he needs to deal with, but all this tough behavior hides immense suffering and infinite love. It's not an easy film to watch, and effort is required from the viewer to understand the story. Not only are not narrative rules respected, but the logic of the film lies more in the emotions of the main character, with the temporal plan interleaved with flashbacks that eventually put everything in place, and with elements of plastic art, in a very Japanese way.

Director and lead actor Takeshi Kitano have already made us face some of the other tough cops or stone faced samurais. What is different in this 1997 film, maybe his best, is that behind the mask of toughness and violence we discover the human tragedy of a father having lost his only child, and a husband close to losing his wife to a non-curable illness. He will do everything to protect her, to create a wall of protecting love away from the cold winds of the furious world around, and this is the beautiful meaning of this astonishing film, which is after all also, beautifully and incredibly, a love story.
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Great concept, but lacking authenticity
gbill-7487719 May 2020
I liked the concept of this film, which turns the yakuza genre sideways by focusing on emotional trauma and grief instead of action. When the violence comes it's in brief bursts followed by long intervals, which allows the impact to seep into us. The film oozes melancholy and brooding, but somehow I never felt the emotional devastation that I knew I supposed to be feeling. The cop who has lost a child, has a terminally ill wife, and then watches his partners die or be crippled is at the end of his rope, but because he has nothing left to lose, he's stronger as a result. He impassively stares down the yakuza and if any get out of line with him, he does things like put a chopstick through their eye at lightning speed. We see that his priorities are his wife and his friend, and that he'll invert morality to support them, which is all pretty interesting stuff.

It was hard to connect emotionally to this film, probably because his relationship with his wife is shown with moments that have all the authenticity and appeal of a television commercial. The soundtrack is similarly shallow, and pace is a problem too, with the emphasis shifting so heavily to moments of inaction. His partner dabbles in art to pass the time after being forced to retire, producing mostly mediocre surreal and pointillist paintings which are oddly given quite a bit of screen time, which seemed a self-indulgence of director/writer/star/artist Takeshi Kitano. The ending itself was strong, but mostly I was disappointed by this one.
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The poetry of blood
rooprect19 September 2006
There's brutality, but it's not melodramatic (as Hollywood might do), and there's gore, but it's not gratuitous (as Takashi Miike might do). It's just right.

I'll give you one example. In one scene, we see a violent shootout in a crowded mall. Aside from the gunshots, the scene is completely silent. There are no stupid, hysterical people waving their arms and running about. And while there is a lot of blood, it's not shoved in our faces--a lot of it is handled off-camera. To me, this lets the scene speak for itself with no distractions. It's one of my favourite "shootout" scenes of all time.

Takeshi Kitano is an amazing, visionary director. After seeing this movie, I went on to see all of his other work. It's surprising how he can switch from violence to comedy to art to "chick flick" on a dime. I believe HANA-BI is a great blend of all his talents.

By the way, I should mention that he is a painter, and he painted all the images used in this film. So, around midway, when you see several minutes of paintings, you must realize that it's not random. It all fits in to the director's vision. And (here's a secret... don't tell too many people) stick around after the credits. There are more paintings. Perhaps even a hidden message? I dunno.

I rate this movie an 8/10. It lost points only because in comparison I liked his other films DOLLS and KIKUJIRO slightly more. But definitely I think Takeshi Kitano is da bomb. Enjoy.
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Typically whimsical piece from Kitano - bit disappointing
thehumanduvet19 June 2001
After all the plaudits laden on this film, and having seen the excellent Sonatine, I was expecting great things from this but was a little let down by it. It's another blend of pretty extreme violence with whimsical, sentimental moments in between, Takeshi is by turns rock hard and a nice bloke, there's some pretty imagery (though the paintings his friend creates, presumably done by Mr Rennaissance Takeshi, aren't all all that great), some crunching violence (pretty much everyone whose path crosses the Beat's ends up nastily dead), but it's just lacks the inspired brilliance of Sonatine. Or it could just be that my wife, sitting next to me loathing every minute, stopped me appreciating it fully. Interesting, but probably not brilliant.
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Tonal cacophony
skepticskeptical28 March 2020
At first it seems that Hana-bi is Japanese crime television fare--nothing to rave about. Then it morphs into a somewhat stranger story with jarringly different tones from one scene to the next. From point-blank executions to cake and fireworks. From flowers and painting to extortion of interest for usurious loans by the yakuza (Japanese mafia). Death is a common thread running throughout, but I found the experience nonetheless a bit discordant.
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Absolutely zero knowledge about filmaking and it shows!
endworlds1 April 2020
Half of the movie is spent on the childish drawing of a tertiary character that wasn't characterized, is not important to the so called plot and we don't care about! Takeshi's acting is wooden, lifeless, emotionless, and the same can be said of his relationship with his wife that he's supposed to love and really (no seriously) care about!. The plot is non-existent, the movie is bizarrely edited so that you can't tell what's happening now and what is a flashback. The main character's occupation is uncertain throughout and he's always followed by some secondary characters everywhere he goes for unexplained reasons. My biggest gripe is that this movie suffers horribly from "tell don't show"! Characters blatantly spout exposition at each other and it seems very amateurish! We find out that yakuza toughs are part of yakuza because they say "You know how we yakuza are", we find out that a guy's wife and daughter have left him because he says that to a different character with a blank, talent-less face when that character presumably ALREADY KNEW that and he's only talking for the benefit of the audience! There are numerous scenes where nothing happens for a long time, for no reason. To give 2 examples, we stare for 20% of the movie at Takeshi's blank, un-moving face and at the end we're treated to a 5 minutes scene where a girl is trying to fly a kite. Just her, running back and forth with some very exciting music in the background! In conclusion, I have NEVER seen such levels of not understanding basic film making techniques and amateurism. Safe to say I won't watch any of the director's other movies!
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boblipton28 April 2020
Ren Osugi is shot while saving the life of his partner, Beat Kitano. He loses the use of his legs. Pensioned off from the police force, confined to a wheelchair, Osugi tries to give himself some purpose. Meanwhile, Kitano quits to take his dying wife, Kayoko Kishimoto, on a sightseeing tour.

There's a Jean-Pierre Melville feel to this movie, with Kitano speaking very little, just occasionally taking off his tinted glasses when out of the sunlight. I suppose there are some very deep subtextual interpretations to this work, but to me it's about a man who is very violent in his work, but very tender towards his wife. It's a very masculine movie, with a lot of violence -- where Miss Kishimoto cannot see it. Very loving and in its own weird way, very romantic.
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Fantastic music, fine imagery, flawed results
Pro Jury3 May 2001
HANA-BI has many quiet moments and fairly slow pacing. Unfortunately, during the many thoughtful interludes the viewer is left to ponder about the recent scenes just watched and many questions surface and annoy.

For example, why didn't the wheelchair guy drown in the ocean when he was stuck in the sand and the tide came up around him? There was no rescue seen or hinted at.

Can it be true that Japanese police are so inept and unskilled at arrest procedures as to not first remove the suspect's ability to reach for a weapon? These detective-level Japanese police seemed to have no experience dealing with a suspect.

Why doesn't the right eye of the lead character blink? Having one eye blinking was distracting and it went unexplained.

What exactly was the lead character spending all his money on to have to borrow so much from loan sharks? He was not seen gambling. Being a non entry-level government employee his wife must have had full health insurance.

What was the single man doing all by himself in the middle of nowhere in the nature park? What was his reason for being there?

How in the world could the gangsters find the lead character and his wife up in the far off nature reserve? It made no sense.

And again, how could the gangsters later find the lead character and his wife up in the remote Mt. Fuji resort? There were absolutely no clues available for these gangsters to even know which country the lead character and his wife were in, let alone the correct specific location at the correct specific time!

And a third same question, how could the junior detectives know which few feet of the Japanese coast line to find the lead character and his wife? The Japanese coast line must be vast. Were all of these characters supposed to have psychic powers?

Two final questions: The cute girl trying to fly a kite on the beach -- WHERE did she come from? She seemed to have no transportation or companions with her. And why in the world did she still keep attempting to fly what was left of her kite after it was ripped in pieces?! This was weird. Unintentionally Python-esque.

On the positive side, I loved the background music. It was dramatic and flowing and added much to this movie. The photography, imagery and art were pleasing to the eye.

One final point, the wife was overly pleasing to the eye. Not once did she ever come close to looking like a dying sick person. She looked very healthy. If anything, these people seemed depressed and mentally ill and not physically sick. The husband treated his wife as perhaps a newly outed gay man would treat a respected wife... a love of friendship, but not close tenderness.

A mixed movie for sure.
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an existential ode to violence
badtothebono9 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
So, it has come to this. In the top-rated comment on this flick, somebody says "Nishi is an honorable man". Really? This is a guy who mainly kills and maims people in the movie. He takes a short break to rob a bank. Honorable? How would you like your kids to go to school with the kids of someone who calls that honorable? Wait, there's more! The person also says "we can tell he's constantly thinking." How can we do that? Well, do you know that joke "How can you tell when a CEO/politician/lawyer is lying?" ... "His/her lips move." Well, Nishi's lips never move, so I guess that means he is thinking.

Of course, this is existentialism to warm the hearts of the cult of victimization. Existentalism supposedly stresses that an individual take responsibility for the consequences of one's acts. Not Nishi. Borrow money from the yakuza. What, they want it back? Kill them. The cops find out. Kill yourself and your wife.

Really honorable.
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Awesome movie!
morfeus25 September 2004
Takeshi Kitano is great as always, and this movie is the true masterpiece of a genius. It truly has everything a masterpiece needs - excellent actors (Susumu Terajima,Ren Osugi and Takeshi Kitano himself - the usual "Kitano crew"), perfect directing, awesome plot and script, and a unique atmosphere, which is created by a mix of sorrow and joy, drama and humor , violence and love, which properly balanced create this great movie. His movie is realistic and shows us one of a million ways a man can honorably end his life. It doesn't suggests or judges anything, it just draws a picture so beautiful and real, that you can only admire it. 10/10.
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Meganeguard9 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Being that the very first Kitano Takeshi film I watched was the bittersweet comedy Kikujiro I had quite a surprise waiting for me when I popped Fireworks into my DVD player almost three years ago. Instead of the loquacious, witty character he played in the former film, the audience is instead presented with the stony, taciturn Nishi who could give a blank piece of slate a run for its money for a deadpan expression. Not knowing quite what to expect and having the whimsical images of Kikujiro still in my head, I was a bit disappointed with the film when I watched it the first time, but after repeated viewings and having viewed most films in which he has directed and/or acted has given me a greater appreciation of the film which many still consider Kitano's masterpiece.

A very quiet and sometimes brutal man, Nishi works alongside his partner Horibe to keep crime, yakuza, down in the streets of Tokyo. If this job was not stressful enough, Nishi has also recently suffered the loss of his daughter and his wife has been diagnosed with leukemia. In order to make ends meet and to pay his wife's increasing hospital bills Nishi is forced to borrow money from the yakuza who he is supposed to be keeping off the street. However, unlike most who are in dept to the yakuza, Nishi is unafraid of those who he is in debt to and even goes as far as to pierce the eye of one yakuza with a pair of chopsticks. With his stoic nature it seems that Nishi is willing to endure his life's situation for as long as it takes. However, one-day Nishi's world is turned upside down.

While on a stakeout with Horibe and two other policemen named Tanaka and Nakamura Horibe suggests that Nishi go to the hospital to check on his wife. Refusing to do so at first, Nishi eventually goes after Horibe has egged him on enough. However, while at the hospital Nishi learns that Horibe has been gunned down by a yakuza. Later, while stalking the yakuza gunman, Tanaka gets killed and Nakamura is injured. With his rage beyond boiling point, Nishi empties his gun into the body of the gunman. Losing his career as a cop, Nishi decides to make amends with his former coworkers and their families, but his methods are far from normal.

Beautifully scored by Hisaishi Joe, Hana-bi is a bifurcated film depicting the life of Nishi, and his wife, and that of Horibe. While healthy in body, Nishi seeks the solace of death because all has either already taken away from him or is soon to be taken away from him. Horibe, on the other hand, while having been abandoned by his wife and child because of his injury that made him into a paraplegic, seeks life through other things such as art and the beauty of nature. Also, some of the most beautiful moments of this film occur between Nishi and his wife Miyuki. While nearly completely silent, the two characters are able to share and experience their feelings for each other just by being in close proximity. Such scenes make the hard as steel Nishi look a bit softer, just don't say anything about his wife's flowers
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