Sonatine

Sonatine
ソナチネ

Japan, 1993, 93’, Japanese
Directed by: Takeshi Kitano  
Script: Takeshi Kitano  
Photography (color): Yanagijima Katsumi
Editing: Takeshi Kitano  
Art Direction: Sasaki Osamu
Music: Joe Hisaishi 
Producers: Mori Masayuki, Nabeshima Toshio, Saito Ritta, Yoshida Takio
Executive Producer: Okuyama Kazuyoshi
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Kokumai Aya, Watanabe Tetsu, Katsumura Masanobu, Terajima Susumu, Osugi Ren

Date of First Release in Territory: June 5th, 1993 


Nearly three decades after its 1993 release, Takeshi Kitano’s Sonatine has ascended to the status of a masterpiece. This deliberately paced, lyrically shot gang film, with its mix of stark violence and silly hijinks, punctuated by Joe Hisaishi’s elegiac score, puzzled and angered not a few early viewers, however. Given the massive subsequent influence of the Kitano style – minimal dialogue and explanations, abrupt transitions from stillness to violence, comic interludes that range from the childish to the pitch black – it’s hard to imagine now how different or even eccentric it once seemed, especially to Japanese fans of yakuza movies, with their repetitive stories of stoic gangster heroes upholding the gang code of duty and honor, even if it meant sacrificing their own lives.        
Superficially, Sonatine resembles such films, with its story of a laconic gang sub-boss, Murakawa (Kitano), dispatched with his underlings to Okinawa to back a local ally in a gang dispute. But soon after he arrives on the island, Japan’s version of Hawaii, his men start being targeted and killed. After taking some payback in a shootout, he retreats with the survivors to a remote beach, where they regroup – and relax. Finally, after his gang has been decimated, leaving only Murakawa and one young chimpira (apprentice gangster), he realizes he has been used and betrayed – and moves at long last against his enemies, spraying bullets like an avenging angel. 

But the ending, with Murakawa committing suicide, goes against the genre grain – and underlines how thoroughly Kitano upends genre conventions throughout the film. Though a man of few words, Murakawa is also no traditional pure-hearted hero. Instead, he stands at one remove from those around him, observing them cannily and impassively, and when roused to attack his enemies, kills them without a flicker of emotion or a hint of fear. 
During the gang’s long idyll at the beach, Murakawa reveals another face, however: Playful and mischievous, and capable of self-reflection, if not regret. When a woman (Kokumai Aya) asks him if he is afraid of death, he answers “When you’re scared all the time, you reach a point when you wish you were dead.”   
So Sonatine can be read as Murakawa’s extended farewell to not only to the gang life – a frequent theme in yakuza films – but also life itself. This theme is found throughout the film, a memorable example being the Russian roulette game on the beach. Seeing two underlings messing with a pistol, Murakawa empties it of all but one bullet and invites them to play a game of paper, scissors, stone. When Murakawa loses, he presses the barrel to his temple and, with a smile on his face, pulls the trigger. The underlings are amazed at his sangfroid only to learn, after he walks away, that the gun has no bullets in it after all. 
So seemingly another of the film’s many jokes and pranks, but later Murakawa dreams of the gun actually going off – and wakes up shaken, but with a look that also suggests a deep fatalism. 
The double-jointed nature of this and other scenes – such as the way a funny nighttime fireworks battle on the beach prefigures a lethal display of fire power later on – not only gives critics much to chew on, but also imbues the film with a certain pathos, pointing to the hero’s final bloody revenge and lonely death. 
Perhaps not coincidentally, the year after Sonatine was released Kitano nearly died in a scooter accident that he later described as an unconscious suicide attempt. Thankfully, he survived, though his fascination with death-haunted heroes remained, and found its ultimate expression in yet another masterpiece, the 1997 Hana-bi.  

 

Takeshi Kitano 

Takeshi Kitano was born in Tokyo in 1947. He formed a comic duo called Two Beats with partner Kaneko Kyoshi, under the stage name Beat Takeshi. He made his directorial debut with Violent Cop (1989), followed by crime dramas such as Boiling Point and Sonatine. He nearly died in a 1994 scooter accident. Hana-bi won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1997. After his first big box office success with Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman, he made three films that examined his dual image as TV celebrity and serious filmmaker: Takeshis’, Glory to the Filmmaker! and Achilles and the Tortoise. He returned to the yakuza genre with the Outrage trilogy.

 

SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY

1989 – Violent Cop 
1990 – Boiling Point 
1993 – Sonatine 
1997 – Hana-bi 
2003 – Zatoichi 
2005 – Takeshis’ 
2007 – Glory to the Filmmaker! 
2008 – Achilles and the Tortoise 
2010 – Outrage 
2012 – Beyond Outrage 
2017 – Outrage Coda

Mark Schilling
Film director: Takeshi KITANO
Year: 1993
Running time: 94'
Country: Japan
29/04 - 7:30 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
29-04-2022 19:30 29-04-2022 21:04Europe/Rome Sonatine Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org

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