Nippon Nights: HANA-BI (FIREWORKS)

Brand new restoration!

Nippon Nights starts off the summer 2017 schedule with Takeshi Kitano’s classic HANA-BI (FIREWORKS). The 1990s were a golden age, at least in terms of their impact on the international scene: the world found out about anime and saw the releases of classics like PERFECT BLUE and PRINCESS MONONOKE; J-horror spread outside of Japan and terrified the world with releases like RING and PULSE; and great individual artists emerged, from the quietly contemplative Hirokazu Kore-eda (MABOROSI) to the hyperkenetic genre benders Takashi Miike (DEAD ALIVE) and Sogo Ishii (ELECTRIC DRAGON 80,000 V). Out of this crowded field, HANA-BI has emerged as the most consistently lauded Japanese movie on “Best of” critic’s lists for the decade. A bit of an underdog story, to be sure… this movie, recognized as the best of a great period, is a stripped down, simple, violent cop movie made by a ubiquitous television personality often referred to as the “Japanese Howard Stern!”

Takeshi Kitano started his career as “Beat” Takeshi, an “insult” comedian who became very popular. Kitano parlayed this success into acting jobs, perhaps the most notable being his turn opposite David Bowie in MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE. Kitano then began making his own films, most notably the crime films BOILING POINT and SONATINE. These movies brought Kitano some attention as a director, but still he was relatively unknown outside of Japan, where he wasn’t able to shake his comedic “Beat” image. While recovering from a motorcycle injury that paralyzed half of his face, Takeshi finished writing HANA-BI.  In the film, Kitano plays a character similar to those he played in his earlier cop movies–a taciturn tough guy with a nihilistic bent, who seems still and quiet at one moment but who could explode into violence at any time. This time, however, the character is more grounded–his family troubles and relationships with his fellow police officers are mapped out in simple storytelling strokes at the beginning. placing his motivations within an easily grasped context. His dichotomy of moods–from nearly inexpensiveness to extreme violence–is even more extreme, as Kitano has barely any dialogue throughout the movie. This helps to create a movie that Roger Ebert called “so drained of story, cliche, and convention and plot that nothing is left, except pure impulse.” Kitano’s character’s wife in the movie is dying of Leukemia, and Kitano’s relationship with her dominates the entire movie. We get no long conversations between them, however – their relationship is shown in an entirely satisfactory way through a simple card game the couple plays in a car, with Kitano’s character trying to guess which cards his wife is holding up with the face turned backwards. The history that establishes the situation in the movie – Kitano visits his wife in the hospital while his partners are wounded in a stakeout, his wife’s medical bills and the desire to help his stricken partners creates a need for more money, with Kitano already in debt to the yakuza – are told in brief flashback scenes, which don’t add confusion but instead add texture and intrigue to what seems at first a very simplistic situation. HANA-BI plays not like an action film, but a haiku of an action film that brings the elementary emotions of the characters of the piece to the surface.

Kitano learned the pointillistic painting process while in hospital before shooting HANA-BI and many of his paintings are used throughout the film as coda pieces, further fleshing out his character’s emotions. The moving, jaunty score by Joe Hisaishi won a Japanese Academy award (HANA-BI’s only win despite an astounding eleven nominations!) and Kitano shows his chops as a visual stylist by designing several breathtaking crane shots; Kitano even edited the film himself. It was not until HANA-BI won the Golden Lion for direction at the 1997 Venice Film festival that Kitano  finally felt he was able to shake his “Beat” persona and establish himself as a serious director. Join us at the Roxie to relive this pivotal moment in modern Japanese film history– and to have fun watching a beautiful, moving film that will satisfy under any context!

103m/Japanese w/English subtitles/DCP



Nippon Nights: HANA-BI (FIREWORKS): Upcoming Showtimes