Hana-Bi (1997) Review

On the night of August 2nd, 1994, an intoxicated Takeshi Kitano crashed his scooter into a railroad barrier. For over a month he was in intensive care. The day after his release, Kitano held a press conference to address the public, during which he opened up about the stress and pressure that eventually lead him to what he later called, an “unconscious suicide attempt”. Kitano’s directing career at that point was an attempt to divide himself from the comedian persona the Japanese public recognized him as. 1993’s Sonatine was perhaps his most mature work to date, and despite the critical acclaim, it didn’t change people’s opinions.

Hana-Bi, or Fireworks, was Takeshi Kitano’s first directed feature since his near-fatal accident. It was also the film that led to his acceptance as a serious director. You could say the accident impacted the film a lot. It’s another one of the director’s dazzling portrayal of ‘going-out-with-a-bang’ type movies; the last goodbye, perhaps. It’s conversations are desolate; Kitano plays a man who’s seen death hit friends and family, and now it’s consuming his wife. He’s reserved, quiet, and barely shows emotions.

Because of this, it’s initially hard to understand who this character is. The audience is treated to his grisly past in the form of flashbacks that do work most of the time, but allude nothing to who he is now. Slowly, towards the third act, does his character really come forward and shine, although not as compelling as Kitano in Sonatine. In that 1993 feature, the seaside was almost represented as purgatory. In Hana-Bi it is also visible, and displayed as a place where someone goes for goodbye, or have discovered a juncture in their life.

At intervals, the film is either violent or beautiful or charming. It’s third act manages to combine the three. Its final scene is so effortlessly beautiful; Takeshi Kitano is well deserving of his Golden Lion award at the time. This is a director who knows how to show such seemingly uncompelling characters and turn them into heroes by the film’s end.

7.4/10

Hana-bi
Dir. Takeshi Kitano
Wri. Takeshi Kitano
Starring: Takeshi Kitano

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