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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 15.15%
Average: 6.06%
Pretty Bad: 24.24%
Total Crap: 6.06%

2 reviews, 21 user ratings

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by Thom

"Bakurero - Japanese for asshole. Bullet - English for dead."
5 stars

Takeshi Kitano's fascination with the world of the Yakuza is given another turn in Brother. This time, the Yakuza influence makes its way to small time street thugs of Los Angeles. This movie is nothing like Ghost Dog, in which an African-American street criminal adopts the code of a samurai warrior. Yamamoto (Kitano) must leave Japan because of his bonds with a Yakuza brother who must now be his enemy. He goes to LA to live with his younger half-brother Ken (Claude Maki), a small time drug dealer. In LA, Yamamoto does what he knows how to do and helps Ken build his rinky dink outfit into an underworld empire while teaching street thugs that attitude is no match for cold blood. Brother has a decidedly human approach to gangster life and while not glorifying it, revels as much in the mundane and universally joyful moments as well as violence and bloodshed. This is Kitano's ninth film and his first made outside the US and primarily in English. Kitano said that filming this movie would have been impossible in Japan. He was also afraid that American crews wouldn't work hard enough so he brought his own loyal crew with him and discovered that American's aren't as lazy as their reputation in international circles would suggest.

Takeshi Kitano was a stand-up comedian in Japan, the second half of a duo called Two Beats. In fact, In Brother, Kitano is credited by his comedian name, Beat Takeshi. In spite of Kitano's identification with comedy, many of his feature films that have reached America have been Cop/Yakuza films, filled with violence, but he has made several movies with no violence at all (particularly his deaf surfer movie A Scene at the Sea. He also made a sex comedy called Getting Any Lately? but you'd have to find a bootleg to see it). Brother is probably his most violent film to date but he never plunges deep into darkness opting instead to waft humor around like the cypress incense burning in so many Japanese homes.

The contrasts make this film interesting. Mexican, African-American, Japanese and Italian gangland life meet with all their own traditions. Only the Italians have as rich a tradition as the Yakuza while the Mexicans and African-Americans are shown as haughty amateurs. In LA, Yamamoto infects the LA underground with the rich traditions of the Yakuza but the object lessons are lost on everyone except Yamamoto's unintentional friend, Denny. Throughout the film, their common love of gambling brings them together for some funny moments and becomes the point where they bond and become the only true friends in Ken's gang.

As Yamamoto leads them through their paces, they all grow rich and powerful and begin an aggressive campaign for larger territory. When they take on the Italians, Yamamoto knows that end is coming. Like a good chess player, he can see the mate long before the final move.

Smart, sophisticated and drenched with subtlety, Brother is not just a gangster spectacle. You always meet the person who will be killed rather than a spray of bullets mowing down a bunch of John Does. Kitano forces you to sympathize with one side or the other and never lets you step back far enough to remind you that the whole scenario is fucked up. All these people are criminals whose business is bought in blood.

Because the audience is moving from the inside of a variety of cultural perspectives, we see racism as the product of ignorance and while completely unfounded, is an unforgivable offense. African Americans, Mexican Americans and Japanese Americans have all been on the outside of American Society. When they meet a Japanese who is now on the outside of Japanese society, their own prejudices get shown as hypocritical and yet we also see the blend of cultures that have been villified by White America. Kitano never makes an absolute statement but shows how there are only shades of grey. Yamamoto himself is both an outlaw and an insider, a man without a context yet he understands the criminal underground in whatever form it comes in. All the characters bend into new categories and transform staid stereotypes into vital and complex characters.

Yamomoto is resolute, playful and completely assured of his choices. He is ready to die when he hits the wall. When he is ejected from Japan, he has nowhere else to go but to the wall. He doesn't scratch at it and pine away in despair. Instead he turns his back and starts up the circus right where he is. His methods are a mirror of the logic of capitalism. Where is the limit of expansion and what are the consequences of aggressive competition where the stakes are so high that any means necessary is the guiding rule? Eventually, you have a war and we all know that nobody wins a war.

The Japanese elements of the film were "dead on", said my Japanese friend. He asked me if the American elements of the film were real or more stereotypical. In general, I said, that the cultural elements were more real than stereotypical but were still something of a generalization. Enough care was taken to make individuals rather than stereotypes. You expect people to be a product of their culture but also to be a unique person.

Claude Maki (Ken) is just so much eye-candy. He has a perfect blend of Tokyo and Los Angeles in his character. He speaks Japanese but his long years as a pro surfer has given him the laid back attitude that you find along the beaches of Australia, Hawaii and LA. He is totally believable as an Angeleno street Thug. Former model, Masaya Kato, plays the gorgeous Shirase and every scene with Maki and Kato is electric. They are also both talented, seasoned hard working actors as is everyone member of the cast.

In between people cutting off their pinkies, committing ritual suicide or taking a bullet to the head, Brother is a truly intelligent and artistic movie with complicated themes of identity and loyalty set against the unfortunate backdrop of the inevitable consequences of a criminal life. The relationships were warm even if bonding was taking place over calculated violence and the relationships grew, as did the characters, with the film. I liked how Kitano didn't always show bloodshed but would cut just in time to let your imagination do the work of creeping you out.

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originally posted: 07/19/01 10:01:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/03/11 chris c Poetic film with some bad performances though Kitano did a mostly good movie 4 stars
1/20/09 Brap Cool movie. 5 stars
2/16/06 Reklc Not bad but I've seen better from Kitano (and the US actors are just overacting). 4 stars
6/20/05 K. Sear A decent film but again, not as good as hyped up to be. 4 stars
2/05/05 Graves Not bad but... Still was'nt as good as I thought!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
4/25/04 Justin333 I thought it was a great example of a gangster movie. 5 stars
12/13/03 Agent Sands (formerly Mr. Hat) Possibly Kitano's coolest movie. Great action scenes. 5 stars
11/21/03 rony i would have done the same to Epps, the plot was awesome but the american cast was lame. 5 stars
6/24/03 Pete B excellent film let down by some poor acting from the american cast members 5 stars
4/12/03 Jack Sommersby Better than "Fireworks", but still uninvolving and badly paced. 2 stars
1/25/03 PJJ Pretty crappy 1 stars
1/21/03 Andy Bronson shit in comparison to his previous work but better than a lot of the typical hollywood shit 3 stars
3/05/02 Art Wright I was close to leaving during 1st scene w/Omar Epps,became impressed as the film developed 5 stars
2/07/02 Dan FitzGerald Only truly artistic criminal/gangster film I've seen in recent memory 5 stars
1/19/02 Rego Allegro A very bad US version of Sonatine - Can't believe it has been committed by the same guy 1 stars
1/07/02 The Bomb 69 script was all over the place, should have been better 3 stars
8/03/01 Mr. X Entertaining and intriguing but hamhanded effects and twists in parts. 4 stars
7/23/01 Simeon Briggs ZachF is a moron - i saw this movies ages ago and it rules, take some chopsticks Zach 5 stars
7/15/01 ZachF kitano is amusing, but the gang warfare is silly rather than menacing 2 stars
6/28/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* I can't belive this film has gotten so little attention. 5 stars
6/17/01 Michael Pretty damn good for a SIFF movie 5 stars
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  20-Jul-2001 (R)
  DVD: 02-Jan-2002


  15-Nov-2001 (M)

Directed by
  Takeshi Kitano

Written by
  Takeshi Kitano

  Takeshi Kitano
  Kuroudo Maki
  Omar Epps
  Masaya Kato
  Ren Osugi
  Susumu Terajima

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