One of my earliest Kitano movies that I remember vividly was Brother, a movie set in the USA, where he went and set up a Yakuza gang of his own, and introduced his own brand of violence to gain turf. It was upon a recommendation of a friend that I went to watch it (and guess what, my friend didn't have the opportunity to do so!), and since then I was curious about his movies, albeit the more violent ones.
Hana-Bi is in this tradition of Kitano movies, either him playing a cop, or swinging on the side of the gangsters. Here, he stars as detective Nishi, a tough-as-nails no nonsense cop who lets his fists do the talking right from the start of the movie. However, his tough exterior is but a shell covering his soft hearted interior, and this is portrayed so well throughout his non-verbal interactions with his lovely wife.
And that, in fact, is the crux of the movie, violence notwithstanding. Between his cop buddy and his wife, it is obvious where should one's priority lie. But being the cop devoted to duty as well, Nishi has to be persuaded by his cop buddy to look after his ailing wife instead. Needless to say, things go wrong during the stakeout, and Nishi inevitably feels responsible.
Winner of multiple film festival awards including the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Film Festival, we follow Nishi in his one man crusade, and the narrative style is distinctively Takeshi. With flashbacks and the non linear narrative presented as a matter of fact, these are but some of the numerous classic moments in the movie, along with his editing style and facial closeups which shows his slight twitches now and then.
Nishi is a cop whose bite is very much worse than his bark, given that he doesn't speak much to begin with. And the violence being so in-your-face, it's a wonder how Takeshi could balance stoic silent moments, with noisy action, all in one movie. As the story progresses, we see how his single-minded devotion to his wife made him go against all odds just to spend some quality time with her, though somehow, in a weird sense, those scenes didn't manage to do much for me. Instead I was reminded of the beach scene in his latest movie Takeshis, because of the lust to see blood on screen, and I think that particular scene is a knock on the head for people like me, who always yearn for more blood.
This movie also allowed Takeshi to showcase his paintings, and they are beautiful to look at. It's very humbling to think that Takeshi is one heck of a talented person, being able to act, direct, produce, write, paint, edit, is versed in drama, action, comedy, the list goes on. And it's no wonder that for this screening, and the one after, there is a long queue snaking just to get (free) tickets, and those patient enough to be on the waiting list, mulling along the museum hallway just crossing their fingers to gain entry.