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"I could be the nicest guy here."

Takeshi Kitano (center) leads the pack in Sonatine.
Year: 1993  
Director: Takeshi Kitano  
  Producer: Kazayoshi Okuyama
  Writer: Takeshi Kitano
  Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Aya Kokumai, Tetsu Watanabe, Masanobu Katsumura, Susumu Terajima, Ren Osugi, Tonbo Zushi, Kenichi Yajima
  The Skinny: Strangely heartwarming tale of a burned out Yakuza sent to broker peace between two rival gangs. The childlike sense of humor displayed by writer-director Takeshi Kitano sets this otherwise by-the-numbers crime drama apart from the pack.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Though it may depict the lives of Japanese gangsters, Sonatine isn't your typical Yakuza flick. Sure, the general plot elements are there (extortion, torture, double-crossing, and murder) but that's not all the movie's about. The film charts the fading "career" of veteran mobster Murakawa (Takeshi Kitano), as he is sent on a mercy mission to restore order to a gang war that has erupted in Okinawa. Murakawa and his men soon discover that this assignment was nothing more than a ruse to get rid of him and muscle in on his turf back in Japan. Ambushed and abandoned, Murakawa and his cronies end up retreating to a beach house to await their next move.
     It is during these beach scenes that the film really shifts in tone. The gangster elements become more subdued as these tough guys—with nothing but time on their hands—lighten up and enjoy themselves. With a sense of whimsy virtually unheard of in this genre, the down-and-out Yakuza play a myriad of childish games. From sumo wrestling to setting sand traps, from playing Frisbee to a chilling game of Russian roulette, these boys know how to have fun. What's most interesting about the humor is that there's always the potential for violence simmering underneath the surface. What's more, the image of the Yakuza tough guy gets tweaked as Sonatine's thugs revert to a sort of second childhood in an effort to stave off this sense of impending doom.
     Fans of later Kitano films like Kikujiro and Brother will be pleasantly surprised to find many familiar plot elements in the earlier Sonatine. Much like Stephen Chow, Takeshi Kitano seems to enjoy creating variations on the same theme. Perhaps his greatest achievement in Sonatine is that he takes these otherwise unscrupulous, inaccessible, and irredeemable characters and does the impossible: he makes them charming, lovable, and downright human without losing a single iota of that tough guy swagger. (Calvin McMillin, 2003)
Notes: • The Japanese title, Sonachine, is actually a type of Okinawan folk music, which composer Joe Hisaishi references in the score.
• At the time of this writing, the American release of Sonatine is available only on VHS from Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder imprint. Other releases from Tarantino's lineup (Chungking Express, Switchblade Sisters, and Mighty Peking Man) have been released in the DVD format, so a DVD version of Beat Takeshi's hit film seems inevitable.
Awards: 1994 Awards of the Japanese Academy
• Best Film Score (Jo Hisaishi)
1995 Cognac Festival du Film Policier
• Critics Award (Takeshi Kitano)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
Dolby Digital 5.1
Japanese Language Track
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Audio Commentary, Trailer, Filmographies

Region 2 PAL
Dolby Digital 5.1
Japanese Language Track
Removable English subtitles
Trailer, Filmographies, Photo Gallery

   Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen