Sonatine (1993) stars comedian-director Takeshi Kitano as the stone-faced Murakawa, a middled-aged gangster based in Tokyo who seems to have had enough of the brutal yakuza business when an assignment takes him to the picturesque beaches of Okinawa to lay low. Twenty-five years after it was first released in Japan, Sonatine is still contentious with some––it was universally considered a commercial failure upon release in its home country of Japan––and largely overlooked by others. Join us to revisit this masterful take on the gangster genre (with a gangster-on-vacation twist).
by Takeshi Kitano
1993, digital video, 94 min
“Murakawa (played by Kitano’s alter-ego “Beat”) has become too successful running the streets in his designated area of underworld Tokyo. His boss decides to get rid of him by sending him to Okinawa on a sleeveless errand. He and a small selection of his henchmen are to mediate between two warring factions of Okinawa’s yakuza clans. The feud between the two clans turns out to be insignificant, and while Murakawa dawdles, wondering why he was sent to Okinawa at all, his headquarters is bombed and he and his gang are ambushed in a bar. Fleeing to the seaside, they hole up in a remote beach house to wait for the storm to pass and perhaps get a few explanations from higher up.
It is here, when the action comes to a complete halt, that Sonatine proves to have far less to do with violence than with the lulls between violent acts, the doldrums in which violent men engage in child’s play that reduces violence to harmless fun. Watching as another of Murakawa’s henchmen falls into a well-concealed sand-trap on the beach, one of them asks, “Boss, isn’t it too childish?” To which Murakawa replies, ‘What else can I do?’”––Dan Harper for Senses of Cinema