ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxld
In Sonatine (1993), Takeshi Kitano plays Murakawa, a tired Yakuza who is sent to Okinawa with his cohorts to calm a gang feud, which turns out to be a ruse for his boss to take over his territory in Tokyo. The movement of the group of men from the city to a rural location moves the violent gangsters into a state of regressive childhood, allowing for Kitano to explore the theme of identity via travel and humour. Their journey begins with a group shot of the men sitting on a bus waiting to leave the airport in Naha. Not only do they resemble school boys on a field trip with blank, bored expressions on their faces, seated geometrically, but their Yakuza connection who greets them goes so far as to offer them drinks and ice cream, looking very much like a school trip chaperone in his T-shirt and baseball cap.
Symbolically, this is the beginning of the journey into the final stage of life for the men, which at once is signified by their being represented as children. It’s a theme Kitano would explore again in 1999’s far warmer Kikujiro.
Once they arrive at the beach house, which serves as the primary location for the rest of the film, the men engage in child’s play acting out Sumo tournaments and having pretend gunfights with fireworks. In this location, at least temporarily, the men are free from the violence of their urban lives as gangsters and in what is effectively a holding pattern, waiting for something to happen between their superiors (the symbolic parents), free to play at their leisure. Unlike Kikujiro, which has a happy ending, Sonatine ends with violent acts of revenge and death. Kitano is a hell of a director, having more than earned the international awards won for this film.