Silent explosions

Japanese director Takeshi Kitano launches a Roman candle of a film.

It's an odd thing to say about a film in which a man's eye gets gouged out with chopsticks, but Fireworks is beautifully restrained. You don't actually see the eye gouging—which is not to say you don't imagine it; in fact, that unseen moment will probably stay with you for a day or two. But so will the image of a girl playing with a kite on the beach, or a man in a wheelchair trying on a beret. The John Woo/Tarantino crowd may find it too slow, the Merchant-Ivory crowd may find it too violent—but if you have a taste for both extremes, this is a movie for you.


directed by Takeshi Kitano

starring Beat Takeshi

opens Friday at the Broadway Market

See end of article for related links.

Writer-director-star Takeshi Kitano, using his stage name Beat Takeshi, plays a cop who blames himself for the death of a fellow officer and the paralysis of his partner. His wife is dying of leukemia; to make her last moments happy, he robs a bank and takes her on a trip around Japan. Simple enough, and the film's style is even simpler. Though there are some complexly edited flashbacks, for the most part every shot is almost transparent, communicating all the information it contains as cleanly as possible. It's hard to believe this subtle, disciplined, yet continually surprising movie is the creation of a man who started as a stand-up comedian, has written 55 books, appears weekly on seven different prime-time TV shows (including Super Jockey and Takeshi's Book of Genesis), writes regular columns for magazines and newspapers, paints (his paintings are a large part of Fireworks), and, in 1994, was voted the man the Japanese most wanted to see as prime minister. Does he eat? Does he sleep? Apparently, though this is his seventh film as a director, none of the previous ones were successful in Japan, and he's only recently been accepted as a serious actor there. And Jim Carrey thinks he's trying hard.

The Japanese have the only culture with a greater flair for repression than the Brits: Kitano's cop says maybe a hundred words in Fireworks. His wife, with whom he spends about half of the movie, has a total of two lines. Almost no one speaks above a conversational tone. The gunshots haven't been amplified to the level of cannon fire. There's as much silent comedy as there are gangster standoffs—or rather, the two are pretty much the same; who'd have thought a swift punch to the face could evoke Buster Keaton? The framing and pace of the film suggest something really important is going on, but all you're seeing is someone getting kicked in the butt. Asian films sometimes wallow in sentimentality; here, it trickles out in small, delicate doses. The result? A sense of loss, resignation, and the value of life that insinuates itself into your soul.

The movie's quiet lyricism—including such traditional Japanese subjects as cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji—are punctuated by shocking jolts. But the brief explosions of violence in Fireworks go hand in hand with the scenes of quiet companionship between husband and wife. They're sides of a coin: only a man who loves his wife this deeply would be so ruthless in his pursuit of her happiness.

Related Links:

Unofficial Takeshi Kitano page

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