Brother Made in: Japan, US (location, distribution) Language: Japanese, English Director: Takeshi Kitano Starring: Takeshi Kitano (credited as Beat Takeshi), Omar Epps, Kuroudo Maki Year: 2000
Synopsis: Yakuza bigshot Aniki Yamamoto (Takeshi Kitano) encounters trouble when his boss is gunned down. Then, his closest associates do the unthinkable and join a rival crime family. Soon after that, his pals are assigned to whack him, but don't have the heart to do it and tell him to leave Tokyo.
So Aniki skips town and heads to America (Los Angeles to be exact), where he reunites with his younger half brother Ken (Kuroudo Maki). Ken is a small-time drug dealer who frequently hangs out with his loser pals, including Denny (Omar Epps).
Aniki doesn't know a lot of English, but that doesn't matter because he's a man of few words. Opting to let guns and sharp objects do the talking for him, he quickly bridges the language barrier and convinces most people to leave him alone.
When Ken gets in trouble with a different gang, Aniki and his yakuza skills save the day. But he doesn't stop there. Instead of laying low, Aniki goes back to his old habits and starts building a new crime empire.
Literally blowing away much of his competition, his new rise to power comes with a price.
The Good: Brother is a very sincere, admirable effort on the part of Takeshi Kitano to reach an audience in the US. His film was made on a shoestring budget, and he seems to have stretched his dollar (or yen?) with clever editing and and other cinematic tricks.
Kitano himself plays a convincing, likeable protagonist despite that fact that he kills a bunch of people, and Omar Epps isn't half bad either. The story moves at a good pace, and a few of the shots definitely showcase Kitano's renowned artistic sensibilities (particularly his eye for detail).
The Bad: The acting. It's almost as cringe-worthy as some of the graphic violence, and drags the movie dangerously close to cheesy, "direct-to-video" territory. A few more badly delivered lines, and this one might have ended up on Mystery Science Theater.
About thirty minutes in, I started feeling really bad for Takeshi Kitano and wondered if this might be a cinematic interpretation of a nightmare he might have had, in which he looked up one day and found that he only had a bunch of low-rate film students to work with.
Kuroudo Maki does his best to co-star as the loyal younger sibling, but his English lines sound as though they've been dubbed by Jean-Claude Van Damme. Seeing such an accomplished actor/director as Kitano surrounded by stilted, awkward actors was disturbingly surreal, and I hope it never happens again.
By his own admission, Takeshi Kitano admitted that he wasn't happy with the end result of this effort to break into the US. Fortunately, he redeemed himself with later films, such as
Who would like this movie: Brother was meant for fans of gangster movies and those interested in the complexities of human nature while trying to survive in the criminal underworld. Unfortunately, this one is really disappointing. Watchable, yes, but ultimately forgettable.