Sunday, April 18, 2010

1997: Hana-bi (Takeshi Kitano)

1997: Hana-bi (Takeshi Kitano) 
I don't know if it's the Virgo in me, or where I get it, but I always prefer simple to complicated.  Particularly as our world, from these eyes, seems to become more and more complex, I want art to strip that complexity away and show me something pure, clean, and fairly uncluttered.  I want art mostly as a respite from my daily life.   

Many of my favorite filmmakers fall into this category (Bresson, Jarmusch, Rohmer, Dreyer, early Wenders, to name but a few).  They are simplifiers, always looking to distill their work into its most basic essence.  "What else can I take away?" must be one of the most important questions in their approach.

Another filmmaker I'd put into this category is Takeshi Kitano.  Like the others mentioned above, Kitano keeps things pretty spare and minimal. I also think he uses color as well, or better, than any filmmaker working right now.  He has a very specific, mannered rhythm like Jarmusch or Hartley and a way with violence that is quite his own.

I like almost everything Kitano has ever done.  But this is my favorite.  

Other contenders for 1997:  From this year, I still have some things to see.  These include: Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco, Andrew Niccol's Gattaca, Aleksandr Sokurov's Mother and Son, and Tsai Ming-liang's The River.  At some point I need to revisit Curtis Hanson's LA Confidential as I struggled with it the first time I saw it.  From this year, I really like Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry, and Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together.  I love David Lynch's Lost Highway, Paul Schrader's Affliction, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure, and Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry.  And my closest runner-up is Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter.  

9/22/11 I watched Andrew Niccol's Gattaca.  I found it to be one of the most unique, thoughtful, and moving Hollywood films I have seen in awhile.  It has to go down as one of the more striking debuts of the last twenty years with a Niccol script that is spare and poetic, all in the best of ways.  I wish visually the world was a little less flat and generic, but Nyman's score and Niccol's smooth direction lift the story well above the sterile visuals.  

9/29/11 I watched Tsai Ming-liang's The River.  I'm a big fan of Tsai's work.  And this is the most challenging of his films I've seen.  It's his most austere and most formally daring (long passages in almost complete darkness and long takes of almost no action, sound, or movement).  I admire the achievement here but respond in a more significant way to some of his other work.  

6/3/17 I watched Clint Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  An Eastwood that I had never seen never really got to me.  It all felt like pretty typical genre fare in terms of courtroom drama and its feel for Savannah never felt that interesting or deep to me.  

8/23/17 I rewatched Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.  It showcases Tarantino's feel for a different part of LA (Hermosa Beach, Carson, Torrance, etc), music, dialogue and love for the marginal (Forster and Grier).  It might be overly arrogant about how clever its non-linear abilities are or even its ability to play out the con.  But it is an enjoyable watch and easier to take in than Tarantino's first two features.

10/26/17 I watched Werner Herzog's Little Dieter Needs to Fly.  It is interesting to see the doc after having seen the feature Rescue Dawn.  But as opposed to a similar example, Mann's Ali and the doc When We Were Kings, this time I much preferred the fictional account.  Perhaps it has to do with what I saw first and the element of surprise or perhaps Herzog and Bale brought Dengler's story to life in much more vivid ways than the heavy expository methods of this doc.  

3/24/18 I watched Hal Hartley's Henry Fool.  Although I have been a fan of some of Hartley's other work, I struggled with just how mannered this particular film was.  Everything felt as a piece but belonging to a world that I could never fully believe.  

6/25/20 I watched Charles Burnett's The Final Insult.  Striking in how human and sensitive it is, even if it lacks some of the poetic balance and levity of some of his work I like the best.  

12/22/21 I watched Olivier Assayas' HHH: Portrait of Hou Hsiao-hsien.  Not as engrossing encounter as I might have hoped between two of my favorite contemporary filmmakers.

3/7/22 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Public Housing.  Wiseman captures many sides of poverty and race in Chicago and begins to draw the characters and world that David Simon would only a few years later craft into his masterful series The Wire.  There are so many memorable scenes in this work that only further attest to the fact that Wiseman has a process and a temperament that enable him to reflect truths about certain sides of the American experience that no other filmmaker has been able to match.

3/29/22 I watched Mathieu Amalric's Mange ta soupe.  An odd medium-length film from Amalric that is silent for long passages and somewhat reminiscent of Tati's work.  


  1. You got me here Jeffrey, as I have not seen this film, but will do so soon on this magnificent recommendation. The comparison here to Jarmusch is most interesting!

    Buff! My own #1 film is actual my top film of the entire decade, while my #2 is in my Top 4 of the decade.

    My Own #1 Film of 1997:

    Gattaca (Niccol; USA)


    The Sweet Hereafter (Egoyan; Canada)
    A Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami; Iran)
    L.A. Confidential (Hanson; USA)
    Boogie Nights (Anderson; USA)
    The Ice Storm (Lee; USA)
    Mother and Son (Sokurov; Russia)
    The Cure (Kobayashi; Japan)
    The Apple (Makhmalbaf; Iran)
    Wings of the Dove (Softley; UK)
    Mrs. Brown (Madden; UK)
    The Apostle (Duvall; USA)
    Croupier (Hodges; UK)
    The Kingdom (Von Trier; Denmark)
    Good Will Hunting (Van Sant; USA)
    Lost Highway (Lynch; USA)
    Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki; Japan)
    Amistad (Spielberg; USA)
    Children of Heaven (Majidi; Iran)
    Live Flesh (Almodovar; Spain)
    The King of Masks (Tiaming; China)
    Open Your Eyes (Amenobar; Spain)
    In the Company of Men (La Bute; USA)
    Men With Guns (Sayles; USA)
    Funny Games (Haneke; Germany)
    Deconstructing Harry (Allen; USA)
    The Mirror (Panahi; USA)

  2. I went with L.A. Confidential in my own countdown and probably should go that route again, but I'm actually going to switch it up and go with my second favorite David Lynch film LOST HIGHWAY. It's really a coin flip for me on this one, but I feel like switching it up! It works as a thriller, a mystery, a horror film... just magnificent, enigmatic filmmaking from Lynch.

  3. This is a great movie Jeffrey. Like you said, spare and minimal, but filled with honesty, beauty and an overwhelming sense of loss. There are so many touching moments here - especially in the second half - that I'll always remember, like the scene where Takeshi throws the bullets into the fire after beating up the thugs, and when they POP his wife looks in the air for the fireworks. So damn heartbreaking. Tremendous choice!

    My favorite for this year would be a tie between Tarantino's Jackie Browne and Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner, but I also love Ozon's Regarde la mer, PTA's Boogie Nights, Lynch's Lost Highway, the documentary Hands on a Hard Body, Amenobar's Open Your Eyes, and Friedkin's 12 Angry Men

  4. Sam, I'll be curious to hear how this one treats you.

    I still need to see GATTACA and will definitely do something about that soon. Thanks, Sam! Always great to have you here.

  5. Dave, great words about LOST HIGHWAY! You and I are definitely on the same page with that one.

    Thanks, Dave! Always great to have you here.

  6. Drew, great to hear that you're also a fan of this one! And I love what you say about it.

    From your list, I still need to see THE SPANISH PRISONER, REGARDE LA MER, OPEN YOUR EYES, and Friedkin's 12 ANGRY MEN. I like BOOGIE NIGHTS and HANDS ON A HARD BODY although both a little less than the others I mentioned.

    Thanks, Drew! Always great to hear from you.

  7. Jeffrey, I like Jackie Brown best of this year, but Hana-bi is a great choice. Kitano's film really took me by surprise with its profound yet completely convincing change of tone. I had it at #3 behind the Tarantino and Boogie Nights in my list for Dave, and those three are pretty tightly packed at the top. I haven't seen everything else from Kitano ( I have seen Sonatine, Brother, and Zatoichi) but Hana-bi is his best by far in my estimate.

  8. Samuel, so glad to hear that you're also a fan of HANA-BI. If you like it, I also highly recommend KIKUJIRO and KIDS RETURN. After HANA-BI, these are my next two favorite by Kitano.

    Thanks, Samuel! Always great to have you here.