Takeshi Kitano's typically distinctive excursion into American gangland received a mixed reception from critics and fans alike upon its initial release, yet a decade later it demonstrates a continuing appeal as a rich, colourful, and exhilarating tale of violence, honour, and cyclical vengeance. Brother presents a brave fusion of Kitano's imaginative, highly stylised filmmaking and an American location which outputs a quite unique result, and it's perhaps this fusion which has caused the work to sit less comfortably with some audiences.
For many, the almost bizarrely dreamlike outcome of this equation - an equation which is built upon a brutal hail of bullets and bloodshed combined with the auteur's expert use of efficient dialogue, extended silences, and delightfully creative angles - would seem to present a formula desperately lacking congruence in a semi-American gangster drama. Yet this unique melting pot of cultures presented with the distinctive and unmistakable Kitano style is what makes the picture so absorbing and refreshing. If you think that the attention to detail, careful and imaginative camera movements, economy of speech, and rich use of colour would signal a picture which is some sort of soft-centred alternative to the rival gangster flicks, you couldn't be more wrong. The beautiful canvas of this film is spattered with the vivid crimson of gruesome and ruthless violence, and the combination is both thrilling and gripping.
Examples of the seamless merger between brutality and beauty are copious. One such moment is the scene filmed from inside a moving car, where a gangster steps out of the back seat, kills two unsuspecting rival gang members, and steps back into the car again. The process occurs during one single moving shot, and the movements are choreographed and timed to perfection. Other scenes are handled with similar consideration, whether it's the distant shot of the suited gangsters throwing the ball across the deep blue sky above the golden sands, the delicate capture of the paper plane as it meanders gently through the urban sky, or the scenes where the Yakuza members demonstrate their unquestionable honour by taking their own lives. Accompany these scenes with the perfectly fitting aural backdrop of Joe Hisaishi, and the result is a powerful one.
The brutality and beauty symbiosis also extends to some of the relationships amongst the members of the criminal underworld. Aniki's (Kitano) relationship with the generally affable American gangster Denny (Omar Epps), for instance, commences in rocky fashion with a nasty bottling incident, yet over time their relationship develops to one of affection in almost wordless fashion, with the pair bonding thanks to an ever-increasing level of mutual respect forged, it would seem, during their regular gambling breaks.
Brother may not have been a resounding success with the critics nor Kitano himself, and the experience may have made the director reluctant to bring his talents outside of Japan again, yet as the drama escalates with the Yakuza finding themselves up against the ice cold ruthlessness of the Mafia, it's impossible not to be absorbed by this stunning multi-cultural gangster story. If you've not caught the movie before now, and can enter the viewing without preconception, you'll discover much beauty amongst the bullets, blood, and battle.
Park Circus present an unexpurgated version of Kitano's stirring gangster masterpiece on a region 2 encoded disc. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio means that the frequent wide shots are delivered in appropriate fashion, and the captured action looks suitably breathtaking. The definition on the DVD is generally good, yet Kitano's movie does reveal its decade-old status on this transfer, as a certain level of graininess is apparent, and is all the more noticeable thanks to the levels of definition we are beginning to become accustomed to with modern releases. There are also occasional flecks evident on the image, though not enough to become a serious problem.
It's well worth mentioning that the clean and shiny menu system which Park Circus have used here is particularly slick, and navigating through the options is simplicity itself. It's an example that others should follow.
The provided English subtitles are clear, and a decent size, and are never allowed to encroach upon the action.
Audio is available in a default of 5.1 surround only. The aural presentation here is strong, and the surround sound is used to impressive effect. The rear speakers are used often, whether for vocal delivery across the soundstage, or for the other sound effects in this lively film. Of particular note are the shootout scenes, which literally engulf you in sound as the exhilarating turf battles unfold, and will push your sub through its paces if you have one attached.
Joe Hisaishi's music plays a pivotal role in Brother, providing a soothing yet fitting accompaniment to the gangster tale, and the audio reproduction serves his work well.
There aren't many extras included here unfortunately.
First up is surely the world's shortest ever Making of Featurette, which runs for a grand total of two minutes and 11 seconds, including shots of the finished film. Whilst it's worth watching, I do question the value of such a short contribution.
An Interviews with Cast and Crew segment provides much more in its comparatively lengthy fifteen minute lifecycle, including comments from Takeshi Kitano himself, producers Masayuki Mori and Jeremy Thomas, and Omar Epps, who speaks of his love of film and ambition to move further into a more pivotal position in film-making.
There's an opportunity to catch a two minute Trailer of the movie, plus a handful of publicity stills in the Photo Gallery.
Kitano's intriguing and unique collision of American and Japanese gangster culture may sit uncomfortably with some members of the master's hardcore following and some new viewers too, yet the passing of a decade has done nothing to water down its impact. Delivered in an efficient package with acceptable visual and audio presentation and a small selection of extras, this Park Circus release makes for a worthwhile investment for the uninitiated.