Sonatine is the third film from director Takeshi "Beat " Kitano. The title describes the form of the film, a work in three parts for soloists. It is as subtle and gentle a film as it's name suggests yet deals with the subject of the Yakuza, the Japanese mob, a violent and ruthless group of men. Kitano shows us a facet of Japanese culture where the hierarchy is absolute and pride and respect seem concentrated to an almost ridiculous extent, a culture where women, although not weak, are peripheral, having no power and little effect.
The first part of the film introduces the players and the situation. Murakawa is sent with a mis-matched group of youths and men of varying allegiance to offer support in the Okinawa gang war. Kitano lightens the film with occasional comic moments, the headmen in their suits watch impassively whist their subordinates stab one another over a passing remark. On arrival in Okinawa matters swiftly escalate and the group go to ground in a remote beach house where contact with the outside world is limited, they wait for orders and the film moves into the slower, serene and lyrical second part. In this middle section the director explores and expands the growing, changing relationships of the men. They have time on their hands and they relax, dance and play games ranging from 'frisbee' to Russian roulette, a dramatic mock battle is played on the beach at night with fireworks. One by one Murakawa loses his men. The final part of the film is short and abrupt. The soundtrack takes over and now the music all but drowns out the violence. The imagery again is strong, a blacked out hotel seen from the outside and lit only from the inside by incessant bursts of automatic gunfire.
The film is evenly paced, it holds the viewer with some stunning imagery, consistently strong characters and sweeping soundtrack. It is easy to identify with the main character Murakawa, played by Kitano himself, a disillusioned man growing weary of his life in the Yakuza he is beginning to rebel, to question his superiors, to show disrespect. He is cynical and tired. Kitano is not only a superb director but a fine actor too, supported here by Aya Kokumai, Tetsu Watanbe and Masanobu Katsumara. Sonatine is a film of unique quality, it is accessible, a very human film and worth seeing.