While Takeshi Kitano has directed some fantastic movies, he’s best known as one of Japan’s most celebrated comedians. Perhaps it’s Kitano’s background as a funnyman that instills such a refreshingly light-hearted aspect to 1993’s “Sonatine.” A yakuza flick that feels like the lovechild of Haruki Murakami and Martin Scorsese, “Sonatine” is reflective and existential, focusing more on the relationships of its characters than sheer explosive violence. That said, when he does hit you with bloodshed, it’s detached, and that’s precisely what makes it so shocking.
Kitano plays Aniki Murakawa, a middle-aged yakuza underboss debating going clean. Murakawa’s bosses send him, along with a band of young underlings, to Okinawa to take out a rival gang. After they’re ambushed, our hero suspects foul play. Deciding to hide out at a beach house until they figure out their next steps, Murakawa and his men pass their time playing games, putting on shows, and acting like, well, normal people. Once the gang starts getting picked off, Murakawa turns into a killing machine.
“Sonatine” is an action movie with heart, and Kitano adds a lot of depth to characters that other directors may have made disposable. The slower scenes are poetic, and whenever we’re shown sudden, deadpan violence, we’re grounded back in reality.