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'Brother'

Thug life: 'Brother' is an ultraviolent look at Japanese crime ring

Friday, September 14, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The Japanese gangster film "Brother" is another of those movies in which blood is thicker than water, thinner than honor and as ubiquitous as ketchup in a burger joint.

 
    'BROTHER'

RATING: R for pervasive strong violence, language and brief nudity.

STARRING: Beat Takeshi, Omar Epps.

DIRECTOR: Takeshi Kitano.

CRITIC'S CALL:

 
 

The director, Takeshi Kitano, also stars in the movie under his stage name, Beat Takeshi. He plays Yamamoto, a member of a Japanese crime family who is exiled to America in the wake of a gang war.

He arrives in Los Angeles in search of his brother, Ken (Claude Maki). Yamamoto wears sunglasses on his impassive face, which sometimes seems chiseled in stone except for a persistent tic in his cheek, and he can't speak a word of English. He encounters a thug on the street who gets by far the worst of it. Ken, it turns out, leads a ragtag drug ring that is headed for big trouble until Yamamoto violently intervenes.

Almost without trying, Yamamoto transforms it into a flourishing criminal enterprise. The others refer to him as Aniki, or brother. The gang has become a family of sorts, not without its squabbles but living by a code of honor and discipline that makes their success possible.

Indeed, the gang members will go to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate their loyalty to Aniki. This is a culture in which one apologizes for wrongdoing or disobedience by cutting off a finger and sending it to your crime boss.

Accordingly, "Brother" is a very violent movie, featuring not just gun battles and severed pinkies but also chopsticks jammed up someone's nose, glass ground in someone's eye, an act of hara-kiri (ritual suicide) and various other bloody acts.

The best parts of the film feature Kitano's performance as Yamamoto, which is so straight-faced it is almost comical at times, and the building of the gang as it melds Ken's original group with rival gangs into an extended family. It turns out Yamamoto forms his closest bond not with his actual kin but with one of Ken's original cohorts, Denny (Omar Epps) -- the very man who confronted him on the streets at the outset. Kitano is a talented filmmaker with a good visual sense and a certain wry wit.

Ultimately, however, there is nowhere for this gang to go but down -- and Yamamoto knows it, especially when they begin butting heads with the Mafia. If he goes out, it will be with style and honor. But the audience may find the code not worth all the carnage that it engenders. These men live to die, and ultimately that seems as pointless as it sounds.

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