Director/Actor Takeshi Kitano (‘Beat’ Takeshi) (2003’s The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi) has another turn directing and acting in his own film. This one is about yakuza turf wars in Tokyo and Okinawa. Sonatine is off-beat, paced in a quirky style, and sometimes funny (there’s a great scene where a circle is drawn on the beach and three men re-enact a sumo match). Great beach scenery overall, and the silences are a visual and aural treat.
When the leader of a yakuza clan (Kitano’s Murakama) is sent to Okinawa to broker a truce among rivals, he’s already suspicious. When a few of his men are killed he takes them all to a seaside shanty to lay low, chill, and figure out their next move. Murakawa has been thinking of retiring anyway, but he wants to go out on his own terms. The lull before the storm is classic stuff, and when the decision is made, it’s made with a vengeance in a climactic scene: Murakama against the whole crime structure.
It’s a fascinating movie to watch unfold, much of that fascination due to the screen presence of Beat Takeshi. When he’s on the screen (and he is a good deal of the time), there’s a tenseness just below the surface, that keeps you waiting for a sudden move. That never happens. He’s a chiseled stone face, but one with a playful grin. At this stage of his career, he’s seen more than enough to be surprised.
There is plenty of violence, but it doesn’t feel like a violent film. There’s nothing gratuitous about it. In this world, it’s just a part of the life. Even in the bloodiest scene in the film, the climactic carnage, we see none of it – only the muzzle flashes in a darkened room reflecting off the windows outside, like Plato’s cave.