Kitano originally got the idea for "Brother" working on "Sonatine", and it
should have been his fifth film. But instead he did "Getting Any?" and then
after his accident, the idea for "Brother" was postponed.
During the screening of "Kids Return" in Cannes, Jeremy Thomas and Kitano ran
into each other. Being old friends and not having seen each other for thirteen
years, they had dinner and talked about old days. During their talk, Kitano
mentioned the idea for "Brother" and that it should take place in the USA.
Thomas liked the idea a lot, but they never talked in depth about it, as Kitano
left the next day for Japan to begin production of "Hana-Bi".
A year later, after receiving the Golden Lion for "Hana-Bi", Kitano flew to
England to present "Hana-Bi" at the London Film Festival. There he met Thomas
and again they discussed "Brother". Thomas wanted to produce it and asked Kitano
if he wanted to make a film outside of Japan, to which he immediately said yes.
Returning to Japan, Kitano and Mori began preparing the idea for "Brother" while
Making a film in the USA did present both Kitano and Thomas with problems.
For Thomas, he needed to create the exact same environment that Kitano was used
to in Japan, since, as Thomas said: "It was important that he (Kitano)
continued to work the way he was used to in the past. For the best results,
Kitano needed to be able to work comfortably." For Kitano the problem was,
that he normally would work ten days on his television production, then ten days
writing books, writing scripts or directing / editing. This was impossible if he
was in the US, so Kitano shot so much television footage before leaving, that he
could spend seven weeks filming in LA.
Kitano comments on working in the USA:
"In terms of the American actors, obviously most were not
familiar with my films or my working style. I usually do only one or two
rehearsals before shooting, then do only one take. So at first, the American
actors were like, "That's it? Wait a minute, I didn't prepare enough!" Once they
got to know the rhythm of the shoot, I think they found my style comfortable. In
terms of how I like to direct actors, rarely will I tell an actor to do
something different in a scene after we've rehearsed. If he's doing something I
don't like, I'll try to think up a new way to shoot it, a different angle. I've
never been the kind of director who gives minutescule instructions to the
Aniki (Kitano) has come to America to visit his younger stepbrother Ken
(Maki). Trying to locate him, Aniki runs into Denny (Epps). Denny puts up an
act, Aniki hits him in the eye with a broken bottle.
Aniki is a refugee. He used to an underboss for the yakuza, but when his boss
was killed in a war, the other boss demanded the Yamamoto family disbanded and
assimilated by his, the Hisamatsu family, as truce conditions. But when Harada
(Osugi), the other Yamamoto underboss, joined the Hisamatsu family, Aniki stood
alone and was suddenly the enemy of his former brothers. When Harada is asked to
kill Aniki, he requests him to leave the country.
Ken is a small time hustler, trying to get by dealing drugs from a small
Mexican gangster. More so, Ken is friends with Denny, but Denny doesn't
recognize Aniki. When the gangster beats up Ken, Aniki beats him up and later
kills the gangster, things gets complicated. Ken and his friends are not really
gangsters, but Aniki is a pro in amateur land. When Aniki's former lieutenant
Kato (Terajima) suddenly shows up, they talk and decide a strategy. Meeting up
with the Mexican's, Aniki kills them all and takes over their turf.
One year passes. Aniki is now boss of the Yamamoto family in LA. They all
wear suits, they are now all rich; But most of them are still only small time
hustlers in the big time league. When a burglar surprises Aniki and Denny, Denny
freaks out and accidentally hits Aniki, who barely survives. Already very good
friends, Denny is overwhelmed by guilt and spends every moment next to Aniki.
They become "brothers".
Considering expanding, their offer Shirase (Kato) to become part of their
family. He declines, but Kato demonstrates what loyalty is and overwhelmed by
this gesture Shirase disbands his own family and becomes part of Yamamoto. Now
twice as big, things move fast. Shirase is aggressive and rather kills than
Back in Japan, Harada is up for promotion, but so is Matsumoto, who was part
of the Hisamatsu family long before Harada. Being accused of being "full of
shit", Harada commits seppuku, forcing Matsumoto to beg for forgiveness by
cutting off his left little finger. Having brought shame on his family,
Matsumoto will never be promoted.
Back in American, Aniki has problems of his own now. The family is expanding
to fast and is now in confrontation with the Mafia, who demand tribute. Aniki
won't back down, neither will Shirase, so its open war against the Mafia. One by
one they fall. When the Mafia kills Denny's mother, Ken gets so afraid he runs
away. Only Aniki and Denny left now, they kidnap the head of the Mafia. To save
Denny, Aniki pretends to shoot him, then setting the mafia boss free. While
Denny drives away to safety, the mafia hit men locate Aniki and kills
I believe the delay of "Brother" matured the idea. Kitano's skill as director
was not yet matured after "Sonatine" and his self-destructive nature would have
been bad for the portrait of Aniki. As much "Brother" is a revision of
"Sonatine", it is, at the same time, a revision of "Kikujiro"; As much as its a
film about yakuza, its a film about family and friendship.
Family / Brothers
Looking closely, one
realises, that there are two sides of Aniki. The one and dominant side is one of
family and friendship, the other is yakuza. When we look at what Aniki spends
his time with once he has resurrected the Yamamoto family in LA, we see, that
she spends it with his girlfriend and with Denny, playing games.
Having a family gives you a centre in life. To have a family means you care,
to be part of a family means you are cared for. Notice how only three people
spend time next to Aniki, after he has been shot: Kato, Marina and Denny. But no
scene demonstrates the strength of family as much as when Kato commits suicide.
While Shirase wont believe that Aniki would ever allow him to be an equal, Kato
stakes his life on it. This is the action of a real yakuza. This is the power
and strength of family.
An equal gesture is when Aniki towards the end gives Gepetti the impression
that he killed Denny, only to let Denny drive away into safety, then later
walking into the firing squad of the mafia. While both deaths are examinations
of the Kitanoian destiny, they are also examinations of the ways of the
Both Harada and Aniki are true yakuza, living by its every code and
tradition, they are two different sides of the same coin. Harada is a
pragmatist, Aniki is a dogmatist. But Shirase is not yakuza, he is nothing but a
violent gangster. He has no tradition nor code.
In Bryon Haskin's "I walk alone", Kirk Douglas is the new school gangster,
using brains and investing the money and Burt Lancaster is the old school
gangster, using his fists and spending money. It is curious to reflect Aniki and
Shirace, but also yakuza vs. gangster, by "I walk alone". Aniki is the old and
thoughtful yakuza, employing an accountant, building a family. Shirase is the
new and thoughtless yakuza, killing everyone in his way. Shirase is not yakuza.
He may claim he is, but when he talks about old school, he is talking about
gangsters. Shirase has no sense of loyalty, history and tradition.
Once again family becomes a factor. Without family, you have no centre in
life, no tradition, no history, no loyalty.
"Brother" notes Kitano first and so
far only venture into dialogue driven narrative. This is most notable in the LA
part of the story. Many transitions are done by dialogue. For instance going
from the scene where they pick up Marian to the scene where they arrive at
Denny's mothers birthday is linked by:
Ken: Where is Denny?
Mo: It's his mother's birthday, so he's at
Ken: Doesn't his mom work any more?
Mo: She got money now, she don't
need to be anybody's maid any more.
It's curious to notice the difference between the two forms of acting. Where
the Japanese actors remain emotionless and quiet, the American actors emote and
talk. At Denny's mother's birthday, everyone emote and Denny's mother talks
constantly, commenting her every move. Opposite to that we get a three shot
montage of Aniki and Mirana standing at the limo watching the railroads and a
homeless man. Non-intended, it gives the impression that Japanese are thoughtful
people and Americans are chatterboxes without thought. And speaking of
chatterboxes, Kitano ends the film with Denny "running his mouth". Instead of
what we normally would expect in a Kitano film, namely a static silent frame, we
get a static frame where Epps, being the star, gets his "five minuts of fame".
This is a huge mistake, Kitano should know better. But apart from this conflict
in pace and style, which is the only real flaw in "Brother", the use of dialogue
The question is, how big is the flaws?
Where the dialogue in "Sonatine" and "Kikujiro" is typical minimalistic for
Kitano, it is more natural in "Brother", allowing actors to act in a
traditionally western way. In respect to this I find "Brother" very close in
style and tone to the films of Kaurism?ki and Jarmusch. But the other way
around, had "Brother" been a pure Japanese film, then a lot of the dialogue
would have been left out, but that isn't the same as to say, that the dialogue
doesn't work. Its just two different ways.
Style and Motifs
Stylistic there isn't much new
ground to cover to Kitano. Static frame compositions, Pans to follow movement,
movement out of frame transitions, straight into the cam shots, and so forth.
However there are new original elements in "Brother".
The first is the use of canting, which is used twice. First when Aniki has
arrived at LAX and stands outside waiting for a taxi. An ELS canted aprx 20 some
degrees is slowly levels out to. The second midway thru the film, as Aniki is
picking up Marina for the first time. An ELS canted aprx 45 degrees is levelled
out by a second shot canted aprx 20 degrees. Its nothing more than a gimmick to
indicate adaptation to a new environment.
The second and far more important is the framing of Denny. Already when Ken
is introducing his friends, we get a PoV of an empty chair, only revealing the
torsos of Ken, Mo and Jay; When Denny arrives the next day, the same PoV is used
again, only this time the chair isn't empty, but Denny sits in it. Later, after
Aniki has beaten up Victor, the camera frames Denny, now sitting in Aniki's
chair, in the exact same angle as it previous did Aniki.
We also explore several Kitanoian motifs in "Brother". Clearest of all is the
oyabun-kobun (mentor-apprentice) relationship thru the Aniki / Denny
relationship, but also thru Aniki / Kato in respect to yakuza tradition. An
equally strong motif is the Kitanoian fatalism, which especially is explored
thru Harada, Kato and finally Aniki.
Especially Kato is interesting here, as he is conscious aware of his fate. In
the scene, where Kato is watching over Aniki, Kitano employs an analeptic
diegenic insert informing us, as Kato remembers, that he will follow Aniki
wherever he goes. This is not some common oath, this is the oath of a yakuza
lieutenant to his boss. Its this oath that later causes Kato to kill
This notes a more complex nature of Kitano's approach to fatalism. While the
seppuku of Harada was traditional Kitanoian fatalism, Kato's suicide is not.
Harada knew only when the moment came to end his life, Kato knew that his life
would end before it did; More so, he accepted it. Another variation is the
deaths of the many "innocent bystanders". Neither Denny's mother, nor Mo or Jay,
or any of the others, were conscious about their destiny. Knowing ones purpose
in life and following it, is what separates normal people with the rest. This
notes Kitano's step into Transcendentalism.
A final note about motifs should be towards "the beach". In "Brother" there
are two beach motifs. The first comes right after the scene, where Denny, Kato
and Mirana is watching over Aniki and is a 52 second long ELS of the shoreline
where Kato and Moose are playing ball, with Ken and Mo watching. The second is
towards the end where Aniki and Denny play a game of "russian roulette" with
Gepetti. As always, the shore / beach notes on having come to ways end and marks
a turning point, a point of no return. The first shot marks that the rise of the
Yamamoto family is about to end. The last the end of the Yamamoto family.
There is something sad about the score of Hisaishi. Many accuse this
particular score of being overtly sweet lounge muzak. Perhaps it is, but it is
also a very powerful score towards coloring the mood of "Brother". It is the
same theme that accompanies the dead Aniki and end credits, as the theme opening
the film, thus suggesting the film is the last chapter about Aniki. It forewarns
the end, the conclusion.
An in-joke few has noticed is that all the Japanese names of those
surrounding Kitano, including his own, are related to Pearl Harbour. Kitano
himself comments on the joke:
"As far as the content is concerned, well, this is something I
don't talk about much [knowing chuckle], but the content is really like the
attack on Pearl Harbour. The protagonist is named Yamamoto, and he's Yamamoto
Isoroku. And Kato is [Capt. Takeo] Kato [of the] Hayabusa [Fighter Squadron].
It's a story of how they planned hondo kessen [a final decisive battle] and blew