Saturday, March 21, 2015
Most Yakuza films fall into one of about three categories – ridiculous action crime drama, dark and serious crime drama, or comedic hijinx. Kitano “Beat” Takeshi’s Yakuza film Brother takes a more fantasy route. Much like how the Grand Theft Auto game series imagines a city with a very organized crime structure based on racial stereotypes (The Chinese Triad runs this area, and over here we have the Italian Mafia, and just around that corner we have the black Gangbangers…), Brother takes Los Angeles, and basically does the same thing. Takeshi breaks up LA among various “legendary” crime groups, from gangbangers to cholos to the local Little Tokyo mafia to the actual Italian mafia, and then tosses an exiled Japanese Yakuza member into the mix to attempt a takeover. It seems like Brother treats LA the way that Yakuza groups are portrayed in more typical Yakuza films – gangs that hold certain territories with specific alliances, and by killing a specific member here, and by aligning yourself with another member there, you can effect a city wide takeover. Not sure if that’s even remotely viable in a crime ridden American city with a collection of disparate elements, but that’s what we’re working with here.
Party 7, Tokyo Mafia: Yakuza Wars, and Fireworks) is tasked with killing him by the new boss, played by Japanese film legend Watari Tetsuya (Tokyo Drifter, Yakuza Graveyard, and Graveyard of Honor). Yamamoto, in true badass fashion, offers Harada his own gun to kill him. Harada refuses; they’re sworn brothers, after all. So he sends Yamamoto to America and kills and mutilates a bum to pass off as Yamamoto’s corpse. Now Yamamoto is free and clear of the Japanese Yakuza and on his way to Los Angeles to find his younger half-brother, Ken (Claude Maki, A Scene at the Sea). Convoluted enough for you? Fortunately the rest of the plot is pretty straightforward.
quickly inserts himself into his younger brother’s drug dealings, with decisiveness and swift violence. Apparently the expressionless Yakuza has no interest in retirement. Why the hell he wants to push in on territory that he knows nothing about, and with no real resources is a mystery, but I guess it’s just part of the fantasy.
The main focus of the film, aside from the violence, is the friendship that develops between Denny and “Aniki” (Denny’s term for Yamamoto, Yakuza-speak for “brother”). They have a good enough chemistry on screen, and the ending hinges on the viewer buying into the friendship in the first place, but I don’t think quite enough development was put into the friendship to give the ending the impact that it really wants.
Susumu Terajima (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl, Gonin 2, Ichi the Killer, Sonatine) as Kato, Yamamoto’s most loyal lieutenant, and Kato Masaya (Shinjuku Incident, Agitator) as the Little Tokyo mob boss Shirase. Also worthy of mention is Ishibashi Ryo (Another Lonely Hitman), as Shirase’s right hand man Ishihara.
The Violent Rundown.
As in any good Kitano Takeshi film, there is a healthy helping of violence. We are treated to the brutal beating of a drunken bum, a broken bottle to the eye, two stabbings, a pair of broken chopsticks up the nose, a car bomb, around 13 shootings including a Russian Roulette style suicide, and probably another 10 more off-screen shootings. As this is a yakuza film, things wouldn't feel complete without the two hacked off fingers and a good old-fashioned disembowelment.
The Final Verdict.
Brother is a good introduction to Yakuza films for English speakers who aren't familiar with the genre. It hits on all the typical Yakuza themes, is probably 80% English, and dishes up a big serving