Fireworks (1997)

Review #1,262

Director:  Takeshi Kitano
Cast:  Takeshi Kitano, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Ôsugi
Plot:  Nishi leaves the police in the face of harrowing personal and professional difficulties.  Spiraling into depression, he makes questionable decisions.

Genre:  Crime / Drama / Romance
Awards:  Won Golden Lion (Venice).
Runtime:  103min
Rating:  Unrated - likely to be NC16 for violence.
International Sales:  Tamasa Distribution

“Thank you – thank you for everything.”

This could just be Takeshi Kitano's most rewarding work.  It is also his most acclaimed, winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, a well-deserved recognition especially in light of his detractors criticizing the graphic depictions of nihilistic violence in many of his films. 

Fireworks comes after such films as Violent Cop (1989) and Sonatine (1993), works that dramatize the tension and corruption inherent in clashes between authority and organized crime in Japan.  Often compared with Hong Kong's John Woo and Johnnie To, Kitano has been one of the most unique voices to emerge in Asian cinema in the 1990s.

In Fireworks, Kitano goes for a more poetic if cinematically restrained approach.  Limiting action to just sporadic bouts of startling violence, the director fashions a melodrama about an ex-cop (played by himself in an effective performance of few words) who leaves the force to take care of his leukemia-strickened wife.  

But the film is more than that: by mirroring his story with his comrade's, who was shot and became paralyzed at the waist down, Fireworks is given a narrative duality not unlike a ying-yang treatise on the subject of fates and existences.  

His comrade, whose family has left him because of his condition, is depressed, suicidal even, but finds meaning through painting.  Kitano's character, able-bodied but mentally and emotionally exhausted, shows a deep love for his wife, and does what he needs to do to tie up loose ends with the yakuza, and spend the remaining time with her. 

Both stories are an intertwining of lived and wasted existences, as Kitano pushes us to think of existence as what and how we make of the time that we have.  While not exactly philosophically profound in this regard, Fireworks oddly connects on a melancholic, emotional level until its unexpected if inevitable end.

Joe Hisaishi's music, possibly his most affecting work for Kitano, is achingly tender, underscoring the drama with more beauty and poignancy than you would expect.  In the Japanese/Chinese translation of the title 'Fireworks', the term is a combination of 'fire' and 'flower', representing both extremes of exacting physical violence and finding inner peace – the film's underlying themes that are unified under a single oneness represented by Kitano’s character.

Verdict:  A poetic if cinematically restrained effort by Kitano, with sporadic bouts of startling violence and a yin-yang treatise on lived and wasted existences.


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