Fireworks

In addition to writing, directing, editing, and starring in seven feature films, Japanese media sensation Takeshi "Beat" Kitano makes regular appearances on several TV talk shows, submits weekly columns for six magazines, and has over 50 books, several albums, and numerous paintings to his credit. It's hard to believe a person that prolific could put out anything worth consuming, but if the bloody, strangely touching Fireworks is a fair indication of his talent, Americans have a lot of catching up to do. With the stone-faced brutality of Death Wish-era Charles Bronson, Kitano plays a veteran police detective devoted only to his leukemia-stricken wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) and his partner (Ren Osugi), who is crippled by Yakuza thugs while he's away on a hospital visit. Stricken with grief and remorse, he quits the force, knocks off a bank, and flees to the countryside to spend some meaningful time with his wife before she dies. Fireworks sharply contrasts serene, gently comic passages with unannounced, staccato bursts of violence: One moment, Kitano is sharing drinks with his cop buddies; the next, he's jamming a pair of chopsticks into a gangster's eye. Kitano infects the lyrical, meditative beauty of classical Japanese cinema with the jarring, low-down savagery of Western genre pictures. What emerges is more than the sum of its parts, an original and profound statement on mortality, how rich human life can be, and how quickly it can be taken away.

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