Brother
 
Production company: Bandai Visuals, Little Brother Inc., Office Kitano, Recorded Picture Company, Tokyo FM Broadcasting (2000)
Director: Kitano Takeshi
Assistent director: Shimizu Hiroshi
Producer: Mori Masayuki, Jeremy Thomas
Script: Kitano Takeshi
Cinematography: Yanagishima Katsumi
Editor: Oota Yoshinori, Kitano Takeshi
Score: J? Hisaishi
Sound: Horiuchi Senji
Production Design: Isoda Norihiro
Costumes: Yamamoto Yohij, Darylle Johnson
Actors: "Beat" Takeshi, Omar Epps, Kuroudo Maki, Masaya Kato, Susumu Terajima, Ren Osugi
Duration: 114 minutes
Premiere: 2000-09-09
Notes: Jeremy Thomas has former produced films for Bertolucci, Cronenberg and Roeg. He also produced Oshima's "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence", which Kitano considers his birth as dramatic actor.
  

Kitano originally got the idea for "Brother" working on "Sonatine", and it should have been his fifth film. But instead he did "Getting Any?" and then after his accident, the idea for "Brother" was postponed.

During the screening of "Kids Return" in Cannes, Jeremy Thomas and Kitano ran into each other. Being old friends and not having seen each other for thirteen years, they had dinner and talked about old days. During their talk, Kitano mentioned the idea for "Brother" and that it should take place in the USA. Thomas liked the idea a lot, but they never talked in depth about it, as Kitano left the next day for Japan to begin production of "Hana-Bi".

A year later, after receiving the Golden Lion for "Hana-Bi", Kitano flew to England to present "Hana-Bi" at the London Film Festival. There he met Thomas and again they discussed "Brother". Thomas wanted to produce it and asked Kitano if he wanted to make a film outside of Japan, to which he immediately said yes. Returning to Japan, Kitano and Mori began preparing the idea for "Brother" while making "Kikujiro".

Making a film in the USA did present both Kitano and Thomas with problems. For Thomas, he needed to create the exact same environment that Kitano was used to in Japan, since, as Thomas said: "It was important that he (Kitano) continued to work the way he was used to in the past. For the best results, Kitano needed to be able to work comfortably." For Kitano the problem was, that he normally would work ten days on his television production, then ten days writing books, writing scripts or directing / editing. This was impossible if he was in the US, so Kitano shot so much television footage before leaving, that he could spend seven weeks filming in LA.

Kitano comments on working in the USA:

"In terms of the American actors, obviously most were not familiar with my films or my working style. I usually do only one or two rehearsals before shooting, then do only one take. So at first, the American actors were like, "That's it? Wait a minute, I didn't prepare enough!" Once they got to know the rhythm of the shoot, I think they found my style comfortable. In terms of how I like to direct actors, rarely will I tell an actor to do something different in a scene after we've rehearsed. If he's doing something I don't like, I'll try to think up a new way to shoot it, a different angle. I've never been the kind of director who gives minutescule instructions to the actors."

Aniki (Kitano) has come to America to visit his younger stepbrother Ken (Maki). Trying to locate him, Aniki runs into Denny (Epps). Denny puts up an act, Aniki hits him in the eye with a broken bottle.

Aniki is a refugee. He used to an underboss for the yakuza, but when his boss was killed in a war, the other boss demanded the Yamamoto family disbanded and assimilated by his, the Hisamatsu family, as truce conditions. But when Harada (Osugi), the other Yamamoto underboss, joined the Hisamatsu family, Aniki stood alone and was suddenly the enemy of his former brothers. When Harada is asked to kill Aniki, he requests him to leave the country.

Ken is a small time hustler, trying to get by dealing drugs from a small Mexican gangster. More so, Ken is friends with Denny, but Denny doesn't recognize Aniki. When the gangster beats up Ken, Aniki beats him up and later kills the gangster, things gets complicated. Ken and his friends are not really gangsters, but Aniki is a pro in amateur land. When Aniki's former lieutenant Kato (Terajima) suddenly shows up, they talk and decide a strategy. Meeting up with the Mexican's, Aniki kills them all and takes over their turf.

One year passes. Aniki is now boss of the Yamamoto family in LA. They all wear suits, they are now all rich; But most of them are still only small time hustlers in the big time league. When a burglar surprises Aniki and Denny, Denny freaks out and accidentally hits Aniki, who barely survives. Already very good friends, Denny is overwhelmed by guilt and spends every moment next to Aniki. They become "brothers".

Considering expanding, their offer Shirase (Kato) to become part of their family. He declines, but Kato demonstrates what loyalty is and overwhelmed by this gesture Shirase disbands his own family and becomes part of Yamamoto. Now twice as big, things move fast. Shirase is aggressive and rather kills than negotiates.

Back in Japan, Harada is up for promotion, but so is Matsumoto, who was part of the Hisamatsu family long before Harada. Being accused of being "full of shit", Harada commits seppuku, forcing Matsumoto to beg for forgiveness by cutting off his left little finger. Having brought shame on his family, Matsumoto will never be promoted.

Back in American, Aniki has problems of his own now. The family is expanding to fast and is now in confrontation with the Mafia, who demand tribute. Aniki won't back down, neither will Shirase, so its open war against the Mafia. One by one they fall. When the Mafia kills Denny's mother, Ken gets so afraid he runs away. Only Aniki and Denny left now, they kidnap the head of the Mafia. To save Denny, Aniki pretends to shoot him, then setting the mafia boss free. While Denny drives away to safety, the mafia hit men locate Aniki and kills him.

I believe the delay of "Brother" matured the idea. Kitano's skill as director was not yet matured after "Sonatine" and his self-destructive nature would have been bad for the portrait of Aniki. As much "Brother" is a revision of "Sonatine", it is, at the same time, a revision of "Kikujiro"; As much as its a film about yakuza, its a film about family and friendship.

Family / Brothers
Looking closely, one realises, that there are two sides of Aniki. The one and dominant side is one of family and friendship, the other is yakuza. When we look at what Aniki spends his time with once he has resurrected the Yamamoto family in LA, we see, that she spends it with his girlfriend and with Denny, playing games.

Having a family gives you a centre in life. To have a family means you care, to be part of a family means you are cared for. Notice how only three people spend time next to Aniki, after he has been shot: Kato, Marina and Denny. But no scene demonstrates the strength of family as much as when Kato commits suicide. While Shirase wont believe that Aniki would ever allow him to be an equal, Kato stakes his life on it. This is the action of a real yakuza. This is the power and strength of family.

An equal gesture is when Aniki towards the end gives Gepetti the impression that he killed Denny, only to let Denny drive away into safety, then later walking into the firing squad of the mafia. While both deaths are examinations of the Kitanoian destiny, they are also examinations of the ways of the yakuza.

Both Harada and Aniki are true yakuza, living by its every code and tradition, they are two different sides of the same coin. Harada is a pragmatist, Aniki is a dogmatist. But Shirase is not yakuza, he is nothing but a violent gangster. He has no tradition nor code.

In Bryon Haskin's "I walk alone", Kirk Douglas is the new school gangster, using brains and investing the money and Burt Lancaster is the old school gangster, using his fists and spending money. It is curious to reflect Aniki and Shirace, but also yakuza vs. gangster, by "I walk alone". Aniki is the old and thoughtful yakuza, employing an accountant, building a family. Shirase is the new and thoughtless yakuza, killing everyone in his way. Shirase is not yakuza. He may claim he is, but when he talks about old school, he is talking about gangsters. Shirase has no sense of loyalty, history and tradition.

Once again family becomes a factor. Without family, you have no centre in life, no tradition, no history, no loyalty.

Dialogue
"Brother" notes Kitano first and so far only venture into dialogue driven narrative. This is most notable in the LA part of the story. Many transitions are done by dialogue. For instance going from the scene where they pick up Marian to the scene where they arrive at Denny's mothers birthday is linked by:

Ken: Where is Denny?
Mo: It's his mother's birthday, so he's at home.
Ken: Doesn't his mom work any more?
Mo: She got money now, she don't need to be anybody's maid any more.
Ken: Right.

It's curious to notice the difference between the two forms of acting. Where the Japanese actors remain emotionless and quiet, the American actors emote and talk. At Denny's mother's birthday, everyone emote and Denny's mother talks constantly, commenting her every move. Opposite to that we get a three shot montage of Aniki and Mirana standing at the limo watching the railroads and a homeless man. Non-intended, it gives the impression that Japanese are thoughtful people and Americans are chatterboxes without thought. And speaking of chatterboxes, Kitano ends the film with Denny "running his mouth". Instead of what we normally would expect in a Kitano film, namely a static silent frame, we get a static frame where Epps, being the star, gets his "five minuts of fame". This is a huge mistake, Kitano should know better. But apart from this conflict in pace and style, which is the only real flaw in "Brother", the use of dialogue works nicely.

The question is, how big is the flaws?

Where the dialogue in "Sonatine" and "Kikujiro" is typical minimalistic for Kitano, it is more natural in "Brother", allowing actors to act in a traditionally western way. In respect to this I find "Brother" very close in style and tone to the films of Kaurism?ki and Jarmusch. But the other way around, had "Brother" been a pure Japanese film, then a lot of the dialogue would have been left out, but that isn't the same as to say, that the dialogue doesn't work. Its just two different ways.

Style and Motifs
Stylistic there isn't much new ground to cover to Kitano. Static frame compositions, Pans to follow movement, movement out of frame transitions, straight into the cam shots, and so forth. However there are new original elements in "Brother".

The first is the use of canting, which is used twice. First when Aniki has arrived at LAX and stands outside waiting for a taxi. An ELS canted aprx 20 some degrees is slowly levels out to. The second midway thru the film, as Aniki is picking up Marina for the first time. An ELS canted aprx 45 degrees is levelled out by a second shot canted aprx 20 degrees. Its nothing more than a gimmick to indicate adaptation to a new environment.

The second and far more important is the framing of Denny. Already when Ken is introducing his friends, we get a PoV of an empty chair, only revealing the torsos of Ken, Mo and Jay; When Denny arrives the next day, the same PoV is used again, only this time the chair isn't empty, but Denny sits in it. Later, after Aniki has beaten up Victor, the camera frames Denny, now sitting in Aniki's chair, in the exact same angle as it previous did Aniki.

We also explore several Kitanoian motifs in "Brother". Clearest of all is the oyabun-kobun (mentor-apprentice) relationship thru the Aniki / Denny relationship, but also thru Aniki / Kato in respect to yakuza tradition. An equally strong motif is the Kitanoian fatalism, which especially is explored thru Harada, Kato and finally Aniki.

Especially Kato is interesting here, as he is conscious aware of his fate. In the scene, where Kato is watching over Aniki, Kitano employs an analeptic diegenic insert informing us, as Kato remembers, that he will follow Aniki wherever he goes. This is not some common oath, this is the oath of a yakuza lieutenant to his boss. Its this oath that later causes Kato to kill himself.

This notes a more complex nature of Kitano's approach to fatalism. While the seppuku of Harada was traditional Kitanoian fatalism, Kato's suicide is not. Harada knew only when the moment came to end his life, Kato knew that his life would end before it did; More so, he accepted it. Another variation is the deaths of the many "innocent bystanders". Neither Denny's mother, nor Mo or Jay, or any of the others, were conscious about their destiny. Knowing ones purpose in life and following it, is what separates normal people with the rest. This notes Kitano's step into Transcendentalism.

A final note about motifs should be towards "the beach". In "Brother" there are two beach motifs. The first comes right after the scene, where Denny, Kato and Mirana is watching over Aniki and is a 52 second long ELS of the shoreline where Kato and Moose are playing ball, with Ken and Mo watching. The second is towards the end where Aniki and Denny play a game of "russian roulette" with Gepetti. As always, the shore / beach notes on having come to ways end and marks a turning point, a point of no return. The first shot marks that the rise of the Yamamoto family is about to end. The last the end of the Yamamoto family.

There is something sad about the score of Hisaishi. Many accuse this particular score of being overtly sweet lounge muzak. Perhaps it is, but it is also a very powerful score towards coloring the mood of "Brother". It is the same theme that accompanies the dead Aniki and end credits, as the theme opening the film, thus suggesting the film is the last chapter about Aniki. It forewarns the end, the conclusion.

An in-joke few has noticed is that all the Japanese names of those surrounding Kitano, including his own, are related to Pearl Harbour. Kitano himself comments on the joke:

"As far as the content is concerned, well, this is something I don't talk about much [knowing chuckle], but the content is really like the attack on Pearl Harbour. The protagonist is named Yamamoto, and he's Yamamoto Isoroku. And Kato is [Capt. Takeo] Kato [of the] Hayabusa [Fighter Squadron]. It's a story of how they planned hondo kessen [a final decisive battle] and blew it."

by Henrik Sylow 2004. All rights are reserved by Henrik Sylow and Kitanotakeshi.com.