Aniki Yamamoto (Takeshi Kitano) was a big noise in the Japanese underworld, one of the most powerful yakuza bosses around until he went too far and is now a hunted man by the other gangsters. So what to do next but leave the country and set out for pastures new, the United States of America to be exact? He has a much younger brother who he plans to stay with, Shirase (Masaya Katô), as they were orphans together and Aniki looked after him growing up until Shirase moved to Los Angeles to take up a college course there, and as the older man has been advised to lie low you would expect him not to want to draw any attention to himself. You might think that, but practically the first thing he does on the way to Shirase's is stick a broken bottle in someone's face...
That someone being Kitano's co-star Omar Epps as Denny, friend of Shirase in one of those movie coincidences and who naturally will meet his attacker again. Though he appeared in American films as a guest star, Brother was Kitano's only effort there as director, seemingly because he thought he would build on his East Asian success and branch out into other markets. However, if you had ever had experience of his work previous to this, you would be aware it was so specifically Japanese that even when mixing with actors from across the Pacific it was unlikely he would have found a tone that translated to that kind of prosperity, with the result that watching this was akin to seeing one of those international co-productions which are pulling in two different directions.
Maybe more (there was British money in this as well as Japanese and American). Naturally, if he was aiming for a fish out of water effort then that was assuredly what he got, but to have a personality to Brother that was so quintessentially of his homeland, only most of it was shot on foreign shores, meant it was neither one thing nor the other. Certainly Kitano was not happy at all with what he ended up with, and averred never to direct a film in the United States again, or indeed anywhere else other than Japan, leaving this with an odd one out placing among his gangster movies. On the other hand, there are fans of his who have found worth in it and its oddly alien quality; it was a Beat Takeshi work, after all.
Recognisably so, it's not as if he went that far out of his comfort zone as far as is setpieces, humour and general plotting went, indeed he could have set this in a different Japanese city and tweaked the story accordingly and you would have more or less the same film, bearing in mind the cast was made up of a largely Japanese performers. It was just that the American influence was something too many could not see past, and couple that with a distinct lack of Kitano's deeper themes as he brought out in his previous efforts, mostly the meaning of male bonding in extreme circumstances, then if anything this could have used more complications to make it less straightforward when you are taking it in and anticipating something more significant to happen than the lead up to a bunch of hoods being shot.
So many characters wound up meeting their demise in a hail of bullets that you had the feeling Kitano was overcompensating, so much so that the notion of Hollywood action essentially consisting of scene after scene of people being gunned down, however correct that cliché may or may not have been, appeared to be what informed his project here. This occurred to the state that Aniki represented some trickster angel of death figure, coaxing the other men (and occasional woman) into a situation where there is no avenue to travel down except the one that leads to their violent execution, even welcoming that not only for his rivals and colleagues, but for himself as well. Acknowledging he had nowhere else to go now he has landed abroad in a land he doesn't really understand or wish to compromise with, Aniki remains calm and placid as all around are dropping like flies, often at his own hands, which had a definite purity of purpose, however twisted that was, yet left little room for nuance when after a while you were simply awaiting the next bloody death. Music by Joe Hisaishi.
Japanese director/actor/writer/comedian and one of the best-known entertainers in Japan. Entered showbiz in the early 70s as a stand-up comic, and began acting in the early 80s, his most famous early role being in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. As a director, Kitano's debut was 1989's Violent Cop, a gritty police thriller.The success of this led Kitano to explore similar cop/gangster territory in films like Boiling Point, Sonatine and the award-winning Hana-bi, all of which combined graphic violence, intense drama and off-beat comedy, while Kitano's more light-hearted side was revealed in the likes of the sex comedy Getting Any?, the autobiographical Kids Return and the whimsical Kikujiro.
If 2000's US-set Brother was a disappointment and Dolls visually stunning but hard-going, 2003's Zatoichi was a fast-moving, blood-splattered samurai romp. After a run of personal, financially unsuccessful art films, he returned to familiar territory with the Outrage series. As an actor, Kitano (credited as 'Beat' Takeshi, his comedy-persona) has appeared in films including Battle Royale, Gonin, Johnny Mnemonic, Gohatto and Takashi Miike's Izô.