Sonatine (1993)
By: Robert Winter on June 29, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (Australia), Region 4 PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 89 minutes
The Movie
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Aya Kokumai, Tetsu Watanabe, Masanobu Katsumura Screenplay: Takeshi Kitano
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Country: Japan
Death is the inevitable consequence of life. Unless you choose to end it yourself, how and when you die is left up to the vagaries of fate. Most of us hope to slip away quietly in our sleep, but for the members of the yakuza, shuffling off this mortal coil often occurs by a loyalty-charged bullet fired at point-blank range without notice.

Director, writer, editor and star Takeshi Kitano plays Murakawa, a hardened, yet sensitive yakuza chief sent to Okinawa to deal with the unrest between two gangs. Soon, however, Murakawa becomes aware that he is simply a pawn in a much bigger game involving the most powerful yakuza players.

The violence in Sonatine is short, sharp and shocking. Like a lightning strike, people fall down dead after a rapid volley of bullets is sprayed around a room or an explosion rips through a building. But just as suddenly as it starts, the madness grinds to halt and is replaced with an unnerving calmness akin to that of being stranded in the eye of a hurricane.

But what makes Sonatine stand out from the yakuza film pack is the startling introspective nature of the narrative. Rather than focusing in purely on the Takashi Miike school of extreme violence as explored in Ichi the Killer, Director Kitano hones in on the lessons learnt from the yakuza's internal warped code of ethics. One moment a member of a clan stabs another in the stomach and the next they're sitting in a bus discussing whether to have an ice cream or not. Or perhaps it's the stony, existential angst suffered by Murakawa when he realises that his life is worth about as much as can of coke. He's resigned to his fate and his world narrows to a point where there's only one depressing, redemptive course of action he can take.
Sonatine is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. Only a few moments of grain, edge enhancement and print softness mar what is generally a very pleasing transfer.
Interestingly, for a South East Asian yakuza film there's quite a lot of ambient music that adds a melancholic flavour to the quieter scenes. The Japanese 5.1 mix springs to life in the louder moments with the rear speakers channeling gun shots and explosive sounds to great effect.
Extra Features
Just a theatrical trailer and handful of Takeshi Kitano and other promotional trailers from the Madman Region 4 back catalogue.
The Verdict
A refreshing change from the usual gore-drenched, one-dimensional violent world of the Japanese mob, Sonatine works on the principle that less is more. And to this end, it succeeds quite dramatically.
Movie Score
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