CHRIS: Hana-Bi (Fireworks) (Kitano, Japan, 1997)

One of the repeated motifs of this internationally celebrated film, is that of Tangram – a chinese shape puzzle that can be rearranged to form different pictures – this is a film that is composed of different elements delicately moving together to create a picture of calm meditation broken by sudden outbursts of violence.

As the film begins there is an indication that there is story that has gone on prior to the action, a police buddy movie, about the successful partnership between the volatile Nishi (Takeshi Kitano) and the temperate, yet more assertive, Horibe (Ren Osugi). The early scenes refer back to Kitano’s hard-boiled ‘cops verses yakuza’ film SONTATINE (1993), however it is clear that there is something else going on between the partnership. Nishi’s wife is dying of leukemia and a sudden botched police operation results in Horibe being paralyzed from the waist down.

The Tangram of relationships is scrambled and put together as a hauntingly meditative study of the intensity of life that people experience in the face of death. Nishi pulls off the most nonchalant bank robbery in cinema history to fund a trip with his wife and a set of art materials – paints, brush pens, canvas – that he posts to his former buddy to help him come to terms with his life in a wheelchair. The film cuts between the two isolated characters as Horibe paints detailed, pointillist images while Nishi and his wife have wonderfully observed, playful moments and at the same time, the Yakuza are increasing their pressure on the former cop.

What is remarkable about this film is the performances. Kitano manages to give a nuanced , expressive performance despite wearing sunglasses and his face being paralyzed following a motorbike accident. The paintings that intersperse the action are ones that Kitano produced while he was in recovery. This is a clearly a personal reflection on death and suffering.

If the summary sounds that the film belongs to the category of worthy but dull then it is an injustice to an enchanting, thoughtful cops and robbers thriller.

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