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The paintings that appear throughout the movie were painted by Takeshi Kitano himself after his near-fatal motorcycle accident in August 1994.
I admired Takeshi Kitano's bleak, brutal freshman effort, Violent Cop, but Fireworks (AKA Hana-Bi - hey, I own that tabletop game!) is of another caliber entirely. There are still cops and yakuza and shocking spurts of violence, and Kitano again stars as a mostly silent figure (there's in fact very little talking in the film). But this is much more than a crime story, and there's so much to unpack, its secrets can't all be unlocked with a single viewing. Kitano plays a detective who quits the force after a PTSD-inducing incident, although he was well on his way after just lost a child and with a wife dying of cancer. The incident makes the story fork into a twin narrative that sees him trying to get out from under the thumb of a yakuza loan shark and taking his wife on one last vacation, and the life of another cop involved, who has lost the use of his legs and begins painting surreal images that in some way inform or mirror the other thread's action ad mood. Kitano is a... quintuple threat here, since these are all his paintings. The intrigue comes as much from deciphering how these images relate as it does from wondering just what Kitano's character is up to. Throughout, there is a disappointment motif that's turned to a sort of resigned joy. The fireworks canister that fizzles out, then works is emblematic of the idea, but is woven straight through, in small things like a camera misfiring (followed by laughter at the absurdity of the moment), and more important things like the yakuza not being satisfied with their payment after all (and Kitano's ensuing reaction). He is playing it like a man who has nothing more to lose, and that gives him strength. Kayoko Kishimoto, playing his wife, is incredibly touching, and in the simplest way, never playing "sick" or "dying", except as a kind of nostalgia for life. And if you have questions about the final, bleak but beautiful final sequence, don't bail out of the credits - a final shot at end might just confirm your suspicions.
I had forgotten how good this movie was. Amazing directing and editing, great acting from Kitano as the silent cop.
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In 9 official lists
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This movie ranks #41 in Venice Film Festival - Golden Lion
This movie ranks #70 in Kinema Junpo Award - Best Japanese Film
This movie ranks #87 in BIFF's Asian Cinema 100
This movie ranks #102 in Akira Kurosawa's A Dream Is a Genius
This movie ranks #204 in Tom Vick's Asian Cinema: A Field Guide
This movie ranks #241 in Cahiers du Cinéma's Annual Top 10 Lists
This movie ranks #411 in Time Out's 1000 Films to Change Your Life
This movie ranks #589 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #910 in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die