“Beat” Cop Goes On
Sad to say, but “Beat” Takeshi Kitano is probably most recognized for his guest spots as villains in movies like Johnny Mnemonic and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. But to those in the know, Takeshi is the respected writer/director/actor responsible for a distinctive string of brutally violent and surprisingly serene crime films.
Though physically I’d say he has more in common with Harvey Kietel, Takeshi’s films have earned him the reputation as the Dirty Harry of Japan. Beginning with 1989’s Violent Cop, he always portrays basically the same character: a man with a high sense of honor that speaks little, but whose actions (and firearms) speak much louder than words.
Fireworks (aka: Hana-Bi) uses the character and format of his previous work and takes them into even deeper, more poetic territory. Takeshi plays Police Detective Nishi, an excellent cop with a penchant for sudden bursts of frightening violence. One day Nishi takes a break from a stakeout to visit his wife, who is dying from leukemia. While he’s gone, their quarry (a vicious mass murderer) shoots Nishi’s partner Horibe (Ren Osugi), and two other officers who try to apprehend him. While most cop movies would spend their remaining running time detailing Nishi’s quest for vengeance, Takeshi has another agenda in mind, and Nishi kills the bad guy immediately.
However, Nishi has lost face for his dereliction of duty and resigns from the force. Horibe survives the attack, but also must resign, forced to spend the rest of his days in a wheelchair. Buried in medical bills, Nishi must borrow heavily from yakuza, and finds himself constantly harassed by collectors (whom he always manages to brush off – quickly and bloodily). Driven to desperation, Nishi carries out a plan to help set things right for those he feels he’s wronged and give his wife one last happy holiday.
Many modern cop movies are comparable to samurai films, but Takeshi’s almost exactly follow the pace and atmosphere of the best of that genre. Though I came away from the film with images of Nishi’s savage encounters with the greedy criminals, also memorable are the many quieter scenes and themes in between, especially the subjects and results of Horibe’s emerging artistic talent (artwork also contributed by Takeshi), and playful moments spent with Nishi and his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto).
Like his predecessor Seijun Sezuki, Takeshi Kitano is an artist whose work continues to explore an ever deepening but interconnected contrast between sadistic fury and natural beauty. Whether you watch his work to contemplate the meaning of destiny, or just to see people get shot in the head, you’re sure to be rewarded for checking out one of his films.