Asian film fans will probably already be aware that Third Window Films recently announced they are releasing three films by the acclaimed Japanese director, Takeshi Kitano, on Blu-ray DVD this year. The first of these is Hana-bi (Fireworks, 1997). This is the story of former police officer Nishi who concocts a bank robbery after a disastrous stakeout leaves his colleagues either dead or seriously wounded, leaving their dependants behind. On top of that, his daughter is recently deceased and his wife has cancer. Oh, and he owes money to the yakuza.
In an attempt to do my film reviews a little differently, here are my five personal reasons why you should watch Hana-bi!
1. It’s directed by Takeshi Kitano
Who is Takeshi Kitano, you may ask, and what makes his so good? Quite a few things, actually – actor, comedian, screenwriter and director. After a career as an actor and comedian, he branched into film directing with his debut Violent Cop (1989) but he wasn’t really accepted as a director until Hana-bi scooped up a number of prestigious awards, namely at the Venice International Film Festival. If you want to watch more Japanese cinema but have no idea where to start, you should add Takeshi Kitano’s films to your repetoire.
2.Takeshi Kitano is a total boss
Takeshi Kitano not only directed Hana-bi but also starred in it as Nishi, the main character. If you like your bad-ass characters who don’t hold back when it comes to beating the living daylights of people while managing to look extremely calm and composed, Kitano’s your man. Oh, yes, and I should probably mention he played the revenge-driven teacher in that classic Japanese film Battle Royale. That doesn’t mean Kitano’s the only interesting character in this film – you also have his silent and subdued wife and his ex-colleague Horibe, who has been left wheel-chair bound and struggling to find solace in his paintings.
3.This is not your regular ‘violent cop drama’
I’m no expert on 90’s police shows, especially Japanese ones, but I think it’s safe to say they generally involve a lot of guns, violence and macho policemen. While this is true to an extent with Hana-bi, it does offer a lot more. For me, Horibe was the most complex and moving character after Nishi. After being left wheelchair-bound following a shoot-out, his wife and daughter leave him and he is condemned to live alone in his little flat without any visible support from the police force he served so loyally. Meanwhile, Nishi stops playing by the rules after he leaves the force and embarks on a life of crime of his own. Through these two characters, we see a much more vulnerable and tragic side to your usually tough policemen.
4.The directing and scenery are fantastic
There’s a reason Hana-bi has lots of awards under its belt. The action scenes are slick, the scenery (moving from silent beach to snowy mountains) is beautiful and always seems to fit with the scene taking place there, and the story never lulls. One of the more unusual artistic techniques is the focus on Horibe’s slightly disturbing paintings, which depict his slow descent into despair.
5.Joe Hisashi composed the film’s soundtrack
I have to end by praising the soundtrack for Hana-bi, which was composed by one of my favourite composers Joe Hisashi. Hisashi is best know for his work on numerous Studio Ghibli films (the Spirited Away soundtrack still makes me tear up to this day), and you can hear some of his wonderful music in the trailer above.