Hana-Bi [Fireworks] (1997) written, directed, and acted by Kitano Takeshi
The film won the Golden Lion Award at the Venetian Film Festival.
Kitano (Beat) Takeshi’s star persona that “grounds masculinity in action predicated on violence” (Standish 326) plays an integral role in his film. Before becoming a filmmaker, Kitano built up his career as a very popular comedian in the 1970s and 80s.
By means of his masculinity, stoicism, and masochism Kitano reinvents 1960s ninky? yakuza film. He represents “post-moral age” of the violent mise-en-scène (Standish 326, 330. 332). Instead of traditional hierarchy based on organizational patriarchy, what prevails in the 1990s is the sensibility of advanced consumer capitalism “where heterogeneity and difference are privileged as liberating” (Standish 332).
Opening music announces gentle, emotive narrative unfolding, while quickly moves on to the first scene with yakuza and the sign of “Die.”
Violence is the theme and motif but the film intertwines the violence with gentleness, bond between yakuza figures and their private life with wives and children – in the end of the day, yakuza is also a human being.
Initial Discussion question:
What do the two shooting sounds of the last scene suggest?
Nishi (Takeshi Kitano) – yakuza whose wife stays in the hospital because of disease that is difficult to cure. He used to be a cop (detective) and now owes much money to the yakuza group. He is short-tempered and highly violent. He rarely speaks. He purchases a stolen car at $500 and paints it as if a real police car. He dresses up as a police officer and becomes a rubbery. He kills a number of yakuza who comes to extort him. As a result of that killing, he expects to be arrested.
Nishi’s wife – She suffers from leukemia and is sent back home from the hospital because the doctor thinks that she cannot live long.
Horibe – He is Nishi’s yakuza colleague. He was shot by a yakuza and now stays on the wheelchair. He enters in a new frontier of visual imagination. Various collages of images such as flowers, animal and human beings hover in his mind. Seemingly his physical injury awakened his artistic talent.
Discussion question: What does his artistic talent metaphorically suggest?
Tanaka – He dies when he is on duty as the yakuza.
Used car shop’s owner – He sells even stolen cars. He is a sort of crook, but strangely generous. The shop is halfway between junk site and a mechanic’s workshop.
The girl with a kite (Takeshi Kitano’s daughter in reality) – What does she and her kite symbolize in the end of the film?
The script intertwines yakuza’s coarse language with their gentleness, politeness, and a touch of poetic ambience.
Music tends to be soft, sweet, and even romantic. It counterbalances the violent images of yakuzas.
Kitano frequently employs a unique synthesis of mutually exclusive, oxymoronic elements in screen – can you list those scenes?
Static image, as well as diagonal layouts of objects or characters are quite peculiar in the film. “[T]he camera turns and looks elsewhere” – the viewer tends to “remain uninvolved” (Richie 232). “]O]ne-shot-one-scene style of narration” is prevalent in the film – the style owes much to manga (232).
A series of shooting creates a narrative segment as a rupture. Usually shooting takes place quite abruptly.
Takeshi Kitano consciously uses his face as a photogenic object. It is a sign of masochistic masculinity and austerity (and perhaps he is narcissistic as well!). His countenance plays a significant narrative role as it eloquently conveys his inner feelings. As Richie states, the viewers are not invited to identify themselves with Kitano’s character.
Slow motion and flashback intensity the images of violence – for example, the scene in which Nishi’s colleagues are killed, and in which Nishi shoots the gang until his bullets are all gone are quite shocking and reverberate in the viewer’s mind.
There are some visual markers of traditional Japan – What are they in the film? How these are used differently from those in Ozu’s film? – Mount Fuji; cherry blossom; Buddhist temple’s zen garden, large bell, lucky charm, and snow etc.
Other objects that we can analyze – red characters that signify “suicide” (jiketsu); flying kite; fireworks etc.
Final Discussion question:
What is the function of fireworks in the film? Any symbolic meaning is attached to it? Does the image visually convey any significance?