Hey, Quentin, here's something to wait until dark for: Fireworks (Hana-Bi), the spectacular Japanese cop tale, which is just totally a Tarantino kind of movie. It's so very cool, and, let's say it from the top, so deeply coolly unapologetically violent.
It's a dread time in Fireworks to be a Tokyo policeman, with out-of-control yakuza mowing you down in the line of duty. It's worse to be a yakuza smarting off to Fireworks' protagonist, Detective Nishi (Takeshi Takano), unless you enjoy a broken nose, a chopstick thrust through your eyeball. Before, Mike Hammer-style, he guns you down.
The bloodletting sequences are inevitably surprising, neatly choreographed, and swiftly over. Yet images linger, for the sequences are brilliantly edited and maximally effective for allowing us to feel the punch to the face, the hard kick to the ribs, for letting us glimpse at bullet holes democractically blasted throughout the anatomy.
However, there's far more to Fireworks than the spasms of killing. Believe me when I tell you: there's poetry, tenderness, Eastern existentialist philosophy. There's a mesmerizing, tragic love story. It's no accident that Fireworks won the Golden Lion Grand Prize in September 1997 at the very intellectual Venice Film Festival, and that the filmmaker-writer-star, Takeshi Takano, has been declared, with his seventh feature, an important "auteur" of contemporary cinema.
Back home in Japan, Takano, known as "Beat" Takashi, is the most popular, ubiquitous, prime-time TV star, a comedian and talk show host, Letterman and Seinfeld rolled into one, also a conceptual artist, a visual artist, a novelist. He's a major talker, a non-stop conversationalist, and he's written fifty-five books!
It's wonderfully curious to realize how different from his public persona is the cop Takano assigns himself to play in Fireworks. Detective Nishi, when not on a rampage, is the most private of men. He virtually never talks in three quarters of the scenes in Fireworks. He mumbles once in a while, he offers an occasional wan smile. He's a small, compact man with the tired, hardened face of an Asian Charles Bronson. He's faced tragedy: his best cop friend is paralyzed from being shot; another cop was killed in front of him; his daughter has died before the movie begins; his wife is mute and depressed in a hospital, and she might be dying of leukemia.
Oh, Nishi loves his wife! The most poignant scenes in Fireworks occur when he takes her off in a van for obviously her last trip. They camp beneath Mount Fuji, they fish, they play guessing games. They pick flowers. It's all so simple, what they have and are about to lose. The secret of life?
Filmmaker Nishi makes it seem so; and take note of the amateur paintings, which look like sentimental Keane variants on Seurat, which cover the Fireworks screen for minutes at a time. What's it all about? In 1994, Kitano was almost killed in a motor scooter accident, paralyzing some of his face. Though he soon returned to his madly workaholic media schedule, surely part of him saw the need for a slower, more contemplative, aesthetic, "connected" existence. He himself painted those pretty flowers and animals, which spring up in Fireworks between the homicides.