Projections - Movie Reviews



Brother is Takeshi Kitano's artful gangster picture which tries to further cement his status as gritty with the persona of a hard-boiled Charles Bronson.  His brightly hued film has flashes of brutality but never fulfills the premise of how a driven, estranged Japanese hit man creates a mob war in Los Angeles.

The hugely popular Japanese TV and movie star begins things in his native country and pitches camp in Southern California, compiling much of his earlier "yakuza" works into the sporadically involving Brother.  There are violent blasts and droll spots, but for Kitano's visual countenance, ambiguity and incoherence pervade the proceedings.

Once, Kitano, his acting name is "Beat Takeshi," brings his cool, stolid enforcer named Yamamoto to LA, it's to meet his likable "brother" Ken (Claude Maki).  Ken operates a small-time drug business with the black Denny (Omar Epps) who has a painful encounter with Yamamoto who uses violence as his means of expression.

The early sections of Brother are promising as this crudely, courageous killer terminates Ken's supplier and Mexican backers who are fleetingly depicted.  Kitano provides some expository flashbacks to underline his actions from another strong Tokyo gang as a new war is brewing in the luminously blue-lensed outskirts of the City of Angles.

The coterie with Ken are aghast at Yamamoto's unspoken vengeance and they find themselves quickly in a posh headquarters that has an indoor basketball court.  Thinking like a gangster he takes up with a whore (Joy Nakagawa) dressed flamboyantly, setting up his gang and going around town in a stretched limousine.

Kitano's tale gets more muddled when a pact is made by Yamamoto with Masaya Kato's Shirase which results in a murder of best friend Kato, well played by Susumu Terajima.  Shirase becomes a more vicious sort than our stoic sunglass mobster as the Mafia wreaks havoc on the gang and a wistful Yamamoto accidentally does in his courtesan amour.

The talented but overconfident director tries to smooth out some of the methodical yakuza burst with deadpan moments, but there isn't much character depth.

With Beat Takeshi coming to America with whole body tattoos and digits cut for expressing disobedience, Brother seems idle in an unconvincing, static crime opus which can articulate or connect like Kitano has to the Japanese culture as in Sonatine, one of his best gangster films.

Thus, the acting is quite disparate with Takeshi and Kato at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum and Epps unable to convincingly fit into this oddly translated mystical heroism.  Brother is too vague and unreachable and it doesn't lend itself to the charisma and periodical glamorized terminations which makes one realize that Kitano's Yakuza passion is often fraternally severed as he attempts to transcend societal rules and hatred.


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