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Sonatine (1993), #78 out of 100

January 24, 2012



Takeshi Kitano developed quite the widespread-in-talents auteur status in Japan, but what’s most interesting about it is the bipolarity of his own established identity. While earnestly jocular in his comedy, especially in his emphasis on slapstick and child’s play, a certain woeful look on the world and depictions of despair stand tall in his work. A comedian with an innocuous humane sense of fun (Kikujiro), a cruel prankster with a thirst for schadenfreude (his infamous Famicom game), and a sad witness of destructive humanity (Violent Cop), it’s uncanny that such a diverse persona could be so widely successful. Or, for that matter, that it could become successfully combined into one product that keeps the conflicted feelings of optimism and uncertainty each one suggests, and so successfully, as it does with Sonatine.

As deadpan as Kitano’s standard performance is, what carries the film is a similarly calm outlook on the criminal activities and subdued expression of joy when the more substantial is found. A group of yakuza in the midst of a territory war hide out on an island, none of them innocent from despicable murders or even sudden outbursts of violence, but when a few of them further retreat to a beach house, the humanist core of Sonatine bursts forth like a budding flower. Despite surrounded and bookended by dehumanizing circumstance, an inner child of sorts of unleashed in Kitano’s warm expressions of humorous… well, fun. All the more haunting when it’s taken away, whether by others or even themselves for the sake of war, the depictions of what happens are always so collected that it doesn’t mind either showing events point-blank or looking away. One could chalk up the violence to nihilism, but they’d be cheating themselves on a pure expression of hope from weary eyes that have seen too much.

From → Top 100

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