review by KJ Doughton, 20 July
Brother is another nihilistic, post-Reservoir Dogs blend of tiresomely hip humor and serious splatter.
After Things To Do In Denver
When You’re Dead, The
Way of the Gun, Snatch,
and a gazillion other Tarantino imitators, here comes the Far East
variation on this incredibly influential style of shades ‘n trench
coats-sporting criminals spouting both trashy talk and crimson
rivers. So liberal is
the bloodletting in Brother,
that Los Angeles would soon rival Wyoming and Alaska as one of
America’s most barren, unpopulated landscapes, were the film’s
head honcho to unleash his own brand of ballistic population control
in Southern California for even a day.
But Brother is
somewhat distinguishable from the pack, if only because lead man
“Beat” Takeshi Kitano (who also wrote, directed, and edited the
film) is so hilariously laid-back.
Hiding behind dark glasses and a leathery, pock-marked face,
Kitano is like a grizzled, fifty-something seen-it-all – and
he’s amused by what he observes, laughing in the face of death
like it’s just one more day at the office. Ho hum.
Unlike other Asian film personas,
like the elegant, suave Chow Yun Fat and the manic, clownish Jackie
Chan, Kitano resembles a weather worn turtle. Reluctantly poking his
head out from under a shell just long enough to waste a few
irritating yakuza slimeballs with some carefully-orchestrated
lead-slinging, one can picture this resigned ol’ cowboy chuckling
at the absurdities of life before retiring to some dark hole for a
good night’s sleep. The
guy might be a tad slow, but he carries with him the wisdom of the
opens with a casual, unruffled pace, as Kitano’s character,
Yamamoto, navigates down La Brea Street in the City of Angels.
It’s clear that Yamamoto is a stranger in a strange land,
and flashbacks reveal that his underworld family in Japan has
recently been wiped out by some younger, meaner yakuza gangsters.
He retreats to the U.S., and searches the streets for his
half-brother, Ken (Claude Maki).
For the first several minutes of the film, its star is
wordless. Laconic to
the extreme, Yamamoto is so stone-faced and static that he makes
Clint Eastwood look like Jim Carrey on angel dust.
We watch this loner track down Ken,
and his rowdy encounter with an intimidating hoodlum shows that
beneath his relaxed manner, Yamamoto is capable of swift, sudden
violence. He gashes the
punk’s eye with a glass bottle, then chills out again, sauntering
down the boulevard as if nothing had happened.
Eventually, he finds his sibling shacking up in a seedy
apartment, and sharing company with some amateur crooks.
This had not been the family master plan for Ken, whom we
learn was sent to America by Yamamoto with a healthy checking
account with which to pay for an education.
The older brother is disappointed to find that his sibling
has frittered away money not on school, but on illicit trades like
dope peddling with his none-too-ambitious buddies, which include
Denny (Omar Epps), Jaye (Royale Watkins), and Mo (Lombardo Moyar).
“My brother doesn’t speak English,” Ken informs his fellow
toughs, who are puzzled by the quiet manner of Ken’s relative.
“What do I do with him?”
But Yamamoto, it turns out, does what he wants, when he
wants. Putting aside
his idealistic hopes for Ken, and deciding that if one is gonna do
something, he might as well do it right, the elder member of this
ethnically diverse motley crew is soon whipping it into a menacing,
domineering underworld force.
can be hysterically funny. The
less professional crooks stand by, shaken and wide-eyed, as their
new leader shoots his way through rival Asian criminals, black
gangs, and Mafia henchmen, all with the laid-back elegance of a
seasoned dancer. So matter-of-fact is Yamamoto’s style that even
the most horrific violence in the film often induces laughter.
Take, for instance, a hotel meeting with Mexican crime
rivals, where failed negotiations lead to tension at a table rigged
with guns, hidden beneath its surface. “Fucking Jap,” giggles an unimpressed adversary from
across the wooden surface. “You can’t even speak English.” Suddenly, Yamamoto lets loose with a hailstorm of lead.
As the smoke rises from a pile of dead Mexicans, this killer
unleashes the corker: “I understand ‘fucking Jap,’
As soon as you can say “upward
mobility,” Yamamoto’s group has a swank new headquarters,
complete with indoor basketball court and a personal accountant.
But all good things must come to an end, as Yamamoto finds
out while trying to waste some persistent Italian goodfellas that
simply won’t lie down and play dead. Eventually, the veteran
lowlife finds that even in America, to live by the sword is to die
by the sword, as he endures a cluster of Scarface-level bullet exchanges.
After an orgy of finger-slicing,
beheadings, chopsticks-up-the-nose, and other disturbing means of
yakuza-style mayhem, Brother
turns into a male-bonding buddy pic.
The African American Denny finds himself adopted by Yamamoto
as a kind of stateside brother, and there’s an act of selfless
salvation at the end that brings to mind John Woo’s The
Killer or Abel Ferrara’s Bad
Does the film work? If you have a
taste for ironic, jet-black humor, Brother
delivers. As an action
film, however, Kitano provides more routine fare that seldom matches
the dark beauty of similar blood cinema masters, like Woo, Sam
Peckinpah, or early Brian DePalma. Still, this overseas
heir to Clint Eastwood certainly commands authority.
Fans can also catch him upping the body count in the
disturbing, Survivor- meets-Lord of the Flies grue-fest Battle
Royale. It’s clear that he’s still got a few more bullets in
his .38 to dispense before he retires.
“Beat” Takeshi Kitano
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
parent or adult