A director recognised as an auteur. An acting superstar in his native country. A game show host. Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano’s resume is nothing if not varied. Following the acclaimed and charming Kikujiro, Brother saw Kitano return to where he made his name as a director - the crime story, and, more specifically, the yakuza story – and this film is his first film set outside of Japan.

With Brother, however, Kitano has stated that he wasn’t interested in making an American-style gangster film and in that, he succeeds, bringing to the table a genre film with the sensibilities of Japanese cinema. There are scenes that contain a poetic depth in their imagery and pacing; and there are scenes of people losing fingers, being gunned down and removing their own intestines to prove their loyalty to the yakuza.

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As a story, though, Brother, on occasion, lacks cohesion and focus. Opening with Aniki (‘Beat’ Takeshi) arrives in Los Angeles, the film threatens to derail entirely, as the story cuts to an extended flashback revealing why Aniki’s has exiled to the US. While the details revealed are relevant to the narrative, the way they are presented is bemusing and clunky at best. Following the flashback faux pas, the narrative charts the rise of Aniki’s and his new crime family, as they hostilely take over the Los Angeles drug business, which, of course, ultimately leads to their demise, too.

As the title implies, Kitano's film explores what it means to be a brother, illustrating this through Aniki’s relationships with his literal brother Ken (Kurôdo Maki), his yakuza brother Kato (Susumu Terajima), and his black brother Denny (Omar Epps). The bond between Aniki and Denny is perhaps the most interesting, as it is one that overcomes both language and racial barriers in a playful way and is the focal dynamic of the action - to the point that the film is somewhat lacking when not focused on these brothers-from-other-mothers.

If the crux of the narrative is a fairly standard gangster archetype, then at least the heart of the story engages the viewer. Brother is a flawed entry in Kitano’s cannon, but not without merits. Kitano explores Los Angeles setting with an eye for the down and dirty, and the director’s auteur styling can be seen in this work. In summary, file Brother under essential viewing for Kitano fans and as a gangster curio for anyone else.

Reviewed on: 09 Feb 2011
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An exiled yakuza leads a drug war against the mafia.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***

Director: Takeshi Kitano

Writer: Takeshi Kitano

Starring: Beat Takeshi, Omar Epps, Claude Maki, Masaya Kato, Susumu Terajima, Ren Ohsugi

Year: 2000

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


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