SAKURA in KYOTO 2018 Back to Kansai
Hello Chit Chat Film Club students, here is your Chit Chat Film Club Film Czar, ready to discuss this week's Chit Chat Film Club Film Of The Week - Sonatine.
Spoilers spoilers, you know there must be spoilers.
I had forgotten how extremely violent this film is, but I had remembered how very very weird it is. Watching it now, I wonder if that weirdness is in the film, or in its depiction of the stoic Yakuza, or just normal Japanese behaviour.
The story sits in three clear parts. The violent life of the gangsters in Tokyo, mostly with each other, and in Okinawa, mostly with the feuding clan. Then we have a very strange period of rest by the seaside. Finally we have the resolution, as the violence catches up with our players.
The film was written, edited and directed by the star, Takeshi Kitano, known as Beat Takeshi from his comedy origins, who plays the lead role of Murakawa, a junior boss in a Tokyo Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) clan. I read that the film was a bust in Japan since audiences couldn't take him seriously as a gangster. But when the film got outside of Japan, nobody knew about Beat Takeshi and without pre-conceptions, he seems hard as nails.
But when Murakawa talks to the girl, he says that he is scared, and that after being scared all the time, he would prefer death. Suicide is in his life, faking a Russian Roulette and then dreaming of it working, and he deals with threats, killings, knives and shoot outs at close range with disdain; surely a death wish. And yet, early on, he speaks with his friend of retiring. It's hard to understand him, or sympathise much.
The film is shot in a very direct, matter of fact way. It is astonishingly calm. Most scenes are very short, and cutting is straight, the camera raely holding for long. There is some shouting and swearing, but the gangsters are always placid in the face of constant violence. But they are not being soft. Underneath, there is extreme tension and threats between them. It's curious to compare this with Goodfellas, where there is the same extreme violence, but much more open braggadocio. In Sonatine, you never quite know when it will all kick off.
What really sets this film apart is the middle third at the beach. This could be a French film, with wide open sand and sky, figures playing, dancing, drinking at night, the bright full moon, fireworks, the rain shower. But all the time, there is violence and dark tones.
When they arrive at the beach house, two men go down to the beach and start shooting cans off each others heads at close range, with real bullets. Then Murakawa joins then and makes them play Russian Roulette, except the the person being shot is the loser of Scissors Paper Stone. They dare not back down, so they play. He clicks the gun twice at his friend, then turns the final chamber on himself. The gun was empty all along. He fooled them into shitting themselves. Later he digs holes in the beach and tricks them into falling in.
At night, he sees a man drag a woman down to the beach to rape her. He walks on by, until the man pulls a knife on him, when Murakawa simply shoots him dead. The woman then hooks up with Murakawa, and later suggests that the rapist was her husband (implying it was just a sex game).
The gang has a midnight war on the beach, firing fireworks at each other from barricades. It looks beautiful, the blue night, the orange fire flying back and forth, everybody laughing. Murakawa pulls his gun and starts shooting at the other side for fun. They're not bothered.
And the weirdest part is the Sumo wrestling. They make little cardboard Sumo wrestlers, and they fight by taping the stage and the little figures rattle, wobble around and fall. Then they make a Sumo ring on the beach, and square up with all the rituals, throwing sand, getting down, getting up, slapping.
And then, the film goes into speeded up mode. It is surreal. The wrestling is done at double speed. The men pretend they are the cardboard wrestlers, the others bang the ground, and the men jiggle around, speeded up.
Very weird. Why does the film, which is always a film, humorous, violent, strange, sanguine, why does it take this brief diversion into a camera trick? Is Beat Takeshi playing for laughs, or just wanted the scene over?
The whole film is strange. The lives of the gangsters, the social graces and business like behaviour is shown to us, the beatings, the discussions, the scheming. The plain-ness of ordinary life in Japan is shown, the bus ride from the airport, the streets, the people. But there are odd interludes. The beach Sumo, the assassin throwing petals, the sudden bombing and the quiet response.
What is the film about? Just a story I suppose. The trials and tribulations of any middle manager who would rather sit on the beach, but still has to get the job done. With guns.