Imagine a cross between Robert Forster and Chow Yun-Fat and you get some idea of the strong, melancholy presence of Takeshi Kitano, the star, writer and director of "Fireworks." Kitano, who uses the stage name of Beat Takeshi when he acts, may not be the most verbally expressive of performers, but his physical expressiveness more than makes up for his taciturn reserve.
In "Fireworks" -- Kitano's seventh film and the first to be released in the United States -- Kitano plays Japanese police detective Yoshitaka Nishi, whose world starts to unravel during a shootout with yakuza gang members. When one of his colleagues is killed and his best friend is paralyzed, Nishi must come to terms with his own mortality and guilt. He must also cope with the terminal illness of his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto). Without uttering a word, Nishi -- who projects an air of peace but is capable of sudden, stunning brutality -- embarks on a journey of revenge, redemption and healing.
One of the contradictions of "Fireworks," which moves at a meditative pace, is that healing often comes as a result of cleansing violence. Taking a page from Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo, Kitano presents violence in several permutations during the course of the film. At times he is delicate and oblique; at others -- such as when the impulsive Nishi pokes out a yakuza's eye with a chopstick -- he is unnervingly direct.
Blood runs thick and copiously in "Fireworks," and it never fails to make an impact, whether it suddenly appears on the back of a policeman's gray jacket or on the blinding white snow of Mount Fuji.
Kitano's exploration of the two warring impulses includes the healing of Nishi's paralyzed partner Horibe (Ren Osugi) through painting. Within the blue-gray emotional tone of "Fireworks," Horibe's naive, brightly hued pictures (which were painted by Kitano) jump out like so many prayers of hope.
"Fireworks" -- the title in Japanese is "Hana-Bi," which translates literally as flower-fire -- suffers from a surfeit of mannerism. Each image and gesture is presented as something of weighty vTC consequence, but the movie's simple ideas don't merit such overwrought effort. Still, there are lovely images -- especially those rare moments of explicit feeling between Nishi and his wife -- that convey big emotions with fine handiwork.
Helped immensely by a lush and poignant musical score by Joe Hisaishi, "Fireworks" makes a quietly powerful impact.
Starring Beat Takeshi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi
Directed by Takeshi Kitano
Released by Milestone
Films Sun Score: ** 1/2
Pub Date: 5/22/98