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Calling Takeshi Kitano's Brother violent is understating the case. After a while, the film itself feels like a violent act; its action scenes pile up so thickly that they change from sickeningly thrilling to simply sickening. But dwelling only on the violence misses the point. As with Sonatine, Fireworks, and Kitano's other crime-themed films, Brother ultimately concerns itself more with what happens before and after the bloodshed than what happens during it. Kitano's worldview is a kind of sentimental nihilism, amoral fatalism with great emotion. Life will inevitably do his characters in, but they take some comfort from each other along the way. Brother, Kitano's first film set in America, is likely to earn him a wider audience here than ever before, and equally likely to leave new viewers more impressed than old ones, who will find Brother pretty familiar. His assurance here comes as much from repeating himself as from his estimable talent in front of and behind the camera. A template-adhering Kitano film still trumps the best efforts of many others, however, as Brother proves. In addition to writing, directing, and editing, Kitano stars as a Yakuza lieutenant willingly exiled from Japan out of a sense of loyalty to a fellow gangster. Moving to Los Angeles, Kitano looks up a young man (Claude Maki) who calls him "aniki" ("big brother"). Soon, Kitano discovers that Maki has fallen in with low-level drug dealers, including a man Kitano previously assaulted (Omar Epps) with little provocation. Instead of chiding them, Kitano sets about turning their multiracial outfit into a major force on the L.A. streets, moving them up in the underworld with the deliberation of a 1930s Warner Brothers gangster. Knowing nothing else of his new land, he carves out a place for himself in the only way familiar to him. Like Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog, Brother finds common ground between cultures, here in the form of various honor-bound societies of organized crime. Brother focuses heavily on Kitano's relationship with Epps, which suggests several interpretations of the title, and the film supports all of them. Finding value in bonds formed even under the most destructive circumstances and in the service of the most abhorrent goals, Kitano refrains from passing judgement on his characters, but he pulls no punches in presenting the consequences of their choices, both through the portrayal of violence and other means. Kitano's deadpan has rarely seemed so mournful; when he reveals a back adorned with a Yakuza tattoo, the film treats it as other films might treat a deformation or a burn.