I think this is perhaps the weakest of Takeshi’s Yakuza films, which I’ve rewatched so far. I’ve yet to watch Hana-Bi [English translation ‘Fireworks’] (which won the Golden Lion award in 1997), and probably won’t bother with his US feature Brother (2000), although I’d like to see his film Outrage (2010).

There’s always a deep sense of spirituality (or the lackof), along with a existential themes, humour, and a meditation on violence, Japanese culture and morality, as with two previous films Violent Cop (1989) and Boiling Point (1990). These films explored and satirised the violence and fatalism of both sides of the coin, gangsters and policemen, who both get little pleasure from life except for the violence and power they wield to achieve their personal vendetta.


The humour, long takes and wide angle tableaux gave his films a sense of ‘social realism’ and surreal irony to the pointless violence. In Sonatine, Takeshi drops all pretense that the gangsters exist outside of their banal criminal activities, and goes so far to remove the characters from their Toykyo city environment, placing them in further into an incongruent dream setting, as the men are instructed to wait on a beach until a gangwar can be resolved.


Although Takeshi had flirted with symbolism in his previous films, here the characters dream and play games like children, much to the dismay of their fellow henchmen. There’s little plot development as most of the film depicts the regression of Takeshi’s mob-boss, who appears to lose all connection with reality and the violence he inflicts, gradually forming a happy friendship to his young friends; a theme he’d used in Boiling Point.


Inevitably, the dream falls apart, and the reality of their isolated haven evaporates when Takeshi’s character learns that a rival boss has taken control of the organisation. The last scene ends on an ambigious, sacrificial note, and it’s uncertain, as with Taxi Driver, Scarface, or King of New York, whether we’re meant to identify with these violent characters, or cynically dismiss them.