Sonatine (ソナチネ)
Made in: Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Aya Kokumai, Susumu Terajima, Kenichi Yajima, Eiji Minakata
Year: 1993

Synopsis: Aging yakuza boss Murakawa (Takeshi Kitano) is thinking about retiring from a life of crime, violence, and slapping people around. But one day he's sent by his organization's leader (Kenichi Yajima) from Tokyo to Okinawa in order to settle a dispute between two organized crime factions. But when Murakawa and his henchmen arrive, they find that there really isn't much of a problem going on there.

After being ambushed by gun-wielding thugs, Murakawa realizes he's been set up by his own people. It turns out that his little business trip was just a ploy to squeeze him out of his profitable Tokyo territory. Forced into exile, Murakawa and his men lay low on an isolated beach where they pass the time playing silly and bizarre games.

But when his hiding place is discovered, Murakawa is forced to take revenge on his old boss.

Remarks: Sonatine is very much an avant garde film. It's very slow-paced, and is definitely not a pulse-pounding yakuza shoot-em-up as the DVD cover leads you to believe. Much of the scenery in Okinawa is beautiful, and some of the humor was clever in parts.

Some have said that this film was "brilliant," "minimalist," and "lyrical." But many equally intelligent viewers called it "boring," "pretentious," and "meaningless." Although the former can be justified, I can't really argue against the latter. I came at this film with an open mind, and admit that I probably fall into the group that would call this film boring. However, I resisted the urge to nod off or hit "stop" on my DVD player halfway through, and finished it.

What I can tell you is that long shots of Takeshi Kitano staring into space like a stoned Koala bear, and a forty-five second long take of a car going up the road doesn't seem like art to me. It's more like someone forgot to stop the camera.

The characters do come across as expressionless and wooden throughout, even when people get shot right in front of them. Was Kitano trying to make some sort of statement about being desensitized to violence? Or does this happen so often to him in real life that it's no big deal?

For me, I felt no emotional connection with any of the gangsters, and at the end, I felt the "crime doesn't pay" message could have been delivered in more interesting (and exciting) ways.

This is the only part of the film I could actually understand...

I'm not quite sure what to make of this film. Although I do poke fun at it, it doesn't seem fair to simply dismiss it entirely. Shortly after it was made, it should be noted that Takeshi Kitano did attempt suicide.

So perhaps Sonatine, with all its death references, might have been bourne out of the troubled director's mind. I'm pretty sure there's a meaning behind this film, but I won't pretend to know what it is.

Who would like this movie: Sonatine is for you if you appreciate unconventional foreign films that are really different from mainstream Hollywood stuff. You'd also like this if you have a high tolerance for boredom.

(2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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