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[whitespace] Fireworks
The Smoking Gun: Takeshi Kitano squeezes off a round in 'Fireworks.'

'Beat' Takeshi arrives on American screens with 'Fireworks'

By Richard von Busack

A strange combination of the sentimental and the bloody arrives in the form of Fireworks, by Takeshi Kitano (who uses the name Beat Takeshi as an actor). In Japan, Kitano is the man Norman Mailer always aspired to be: television star, actor, filmmaker, poet and pundit. His reputation in Japan aside, it's easy to see that Kitano is a big talent just by what's here on screen. His concern with both the wounding and the wounded makes Fireworks a unique story, unlike anything I've seen; giant leaps of tone are somehow harmonized into a powerful threnody for a violent man.

Fireworks is a police-and-yakuza story more concerned with the aftermath of a shooting than with suspense. The flashback-heavy narrative begins after the violence has ended. Ex-plainclothes detective Nishi (Takeshi) is a standard hard-ass; he wears oval sunglasses that make his face look even more skull-like. The stone-faced cop, with a crescent-shaped scar at the corner of his mouth, is the lucky survivor of a shootout that killed one partner and left the other, Horibe (Ren Osugi), in a wheelchair.

But Nishi's good luck has no savor to it. His wife is dying of leukemia. He is surrounded by the other victims of the shootout that left Nishi with nothing but thoughts of the dead and the dying. The widow of Nishi's murdered partner has to work fast-food to survive. The crippled Horibe suffers the peculiar agony of a workaholic whose work has vanished. Abandoned by his wife and child, to whom he was a stranger anyway, he endures a sort of living death at a seaside resort.

Nishi turns bank robber to bring money to the people in his life and to take his wife on a last holiday. He's followed by both the yakuza, to whom he owes money, and the police. This provides not only suspense, but pathos--Nishi's wife, who does not speak, is as poignant a waif as Giulietta Masina in La Strada.

At times, Takeshi's confidence gets the best of him and he lays it on a little thick. The scenes of Horibe in the wheelchair and with his paintings--painted by Takeshi, naturally--don't invite the kind of lingering contemplation Takeshi seems to think they deserve. Still, by all rights Fireworks should have been a hodge-podge, and it's a remarkably integrated film. It could be summed up by one image: a cop pulls a trigger, killing a man, and the action knocks a single blossom off a nearby bush. The florid amateur paintings of the crippled officer, which recall Seurat and Henri Rousseau, are juxtaposed with the comedy of Tetsu Watanabe, a fuming Jonathan Winters type who manages the junkyard where Nishi finds a getaway car.

Titanic gained its reputation for being a seamless blend of disaster film and romance; Fireworks mixes its disparate elements of tenderness and bloodshed far more successfully. This is an urgent film about the contemplation of life. The tensions don't burst the film, but power it into a realm all its own. It's the most striking arrival from Japan since the late Juzo Itami's Tampopo.

Fireworks (Unrated; 103 minutes), written and directed by Takeshi Kitano, starring Beat Takeshi and Ren Osugi.

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From the March 26-April 1, 1998 issue of Metro.

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