Gangsters. Yamamoto, Denny and Ken (Takeshi, Epps and Maki) take on the L.A. gang lords.
dir-scr Takeshi Kitano
with Beat Takeshi, Claude Maki, Omar Epps, Masaya Kato, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima, Tatyana Ali, Darryl M Bell, Lombardo Boyar, Wanda-Lee Evans, Joy Nakagawa, Antwon Tanner
release UK 23.Mar.01; US 6.Apr.01
00/Japan-US 1h24
3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Kitano brings his trademark combination of gentle drama and harsh violence to America with this effective, unsettling film. Yamamoto (Kitano, using his stage name Beat Takeshi) is forced out of the yakuza in Japan and flees to Los Angeles to find his little brother Ken (Maki), a lowlife drug dealer with a small circle of cohorts. Quickly, Yamamoto raises the stakes considerably with his silent but very brutal methods, taking on the larger gangs until it's all-out war for gangster supremacy. And things go surprisingly smoothly ... until they come face to face with the Italians.

Stylistically, the film is extraordinary, with a lush, classy tone enhanced by strange lounge music and Kitano's typically near-wordless script infused with plenty of dark humour. Then it erupts in the most grisly violence imaginable, catching us off guard with the sheer brutality of murder and, most horrifically, self-mutilation. This gruesomeness is never glamorised--it's horrific, senseless and awful. And the film is much stronger as a result. Kitano is thoroughly effective in the central role, funny, scary, tough and mythical; while Epps is superb as the young Angeleno he takes under his wing. The story is a bit fragmented--lots of flashbacks and jumping back and forth to Japan to explain who everyone is and what they're doing, and yet we never quite get it. But it doesn't really matter: This is an original gangster thriller well worth seeking out on the art film circuit.
strong violence, themes, language cert 18 7.Mar.01

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2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall