REVIEW: DVD Release: Hana-Bi

Film: Hana-Bi
Release date: 26th February 2001
Certificate: 18
Running time: 99 mins
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Ohsugi, Susumu Terajima, Tetsu Watanabe
Genre: Crime/Drama/Romance/Thriller
Studio: Momentum
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

Hana-Bi marks Takeshi Kitano’s seventh successive film, and as well has having directed and written the film, Kitano himself also plays the lead role. Since its initial release in 1997, Hana-Bi has gone on to win countless awards, including the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. The unexpected international success of Hana-Bi, coupled with Sonatine’s critical acclaim, established Kitano as a pioneer of Japanese filmmaking.

Kitano plays Nishi, a former police officer who is dealing with: the trauma of losing a friend on the job; the guilt that another colleague is wheelchair bound; the upset of caring for his dying wife; and debt problems – continually hounded by loan sharks.

Nishi takes it upon himself to help those around him by robbing a bank and borrowing more money from the debt collectors, before embarking on a road trip with his wife, which enables them to spend some long overdue quality time together.

However, Nishi’s wrong doings soon catch up with him, as the film heads towards an inevitable tragedy…

Hana-Bi is a masterpiece of filmmaking and, without a doubt, still Takeshi’s best piece to date. Almost every aspect of this film is unbreakable and unwavering. Much like the spirit or message the film carries with it, Hana-Bi is the unsung hero of cinema. A film that quite rightly set Kitano on his way to total success within the Japanese film industry.

Hana-Bi’s soundtrack is composed by musical genius Joe Hisaishi, a man familiar with award-winning scores, who has worked on many of Kitano’s other projects, as well as a number of Studio Ghibli pictures. The music captures the mood perfectly, and adds so much to a scene it becomes integral to Hana-Bi’s overall plot. The music often lends scenes a melancholic feeling, which is then enforced by the cast’s performances.

Takeshi gives an unforgettable performance as the sublime anti hero who is willing to sacrifice the rules in order to help others. Much like many of his other performances, Takeshi shows signs of knowing exactly what works and exactly how he wants his character portrayed - intimate and touching scenes with his wife during her final days, for example, really allow Takeshi’s raw persona to shine through, and allows the audience to experience the mind of someone who has to deal with the situation that surrounds him.

Other honourable mentions go to Ren Ôsugi and Susumu Terajima, both of whom have worked with Kitano before, and deserve a mention in their own right. They both make great use of the script, and give outstanding performances as the crippled wheelchair bound retiree and the young hot shot detective. Ôsugi, in particular, is granted a lot of screen time, and is often left holding the audience’s attention for lengthy scenes - one depicts Ôsugi contemplating painting, and the scene lasts long enough to really emphasise the point of Ôsugi’s isolation, and inability.

Another notable element to Hana-Bi is its cinematography, which is, at times, both imaginative and picturesque, but can change unexpectedly towards the shock and horror factor, depicting scenes of extreme violence – for instance, the shoot out in the mall that instigates Takeshi’s downfall has a bleak and long lasting image of Takeshi’s blood spattered face, which really drives the point through. Hana-Bi’s violence, however, doesn’t serve Japanese horror/gore fanboys looking for their next fix. Instead, Hana-Bi’s violence is used as a tool or instrument. Kitano has made this clear in past interviews, and persists that his films are not glorified violence but violence with a message.

Although extreme at times, the violence in Hana-Bi is distracted by its heart-warming sense of humour. The happiness of Takeshi’s life steams from the charming scenes of him and his wife on their road trip, where the humour is touching and sensitive. A sense of humour that can be found in most of Kitano’s works, and one that’s more than welcome when a film like Hana-Bi tackles dark themes and issues not often found in films with comedy.

Hana-Bi is a cinematic masterpiece. Its dark content balanced with light humour and amazing visuals gives the film a unique and original feel. Along with its imaginative and artistic style cinematography, and an ending that will truly leave an impression, Hana-Bi is a triumph not only for Kitano but for Japanese cinema as a whole. LS


  1. this guy can do no wrong. also check out sonatine whichis probably hisbest film

  2. i agree, sonatine is another classic kitano, also his debut violent cop - the guy is just cool

  3. i picked this up after recognising beat takeshi from battle royale. totally different to what i expected (a standard gangster movie), very moving and artful. gripped from start to finish and the ending is a real sucker punch

  4. I'm a big fan of Asian cinema but feel Takeshi Kitano is very over-rated. His films are very posey and slow moving. I expected a lot more from Hana-Bi after all the positive reviews I've red but found it very boring - lacking pace and not helped by the inclusion of a number of pointless scenes.