Just saw this recently, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Basically, I don’t really understand the film. I’m pretty sure it’s a not a straightforward action/yakuza type movie, as it seems to be going for something more existential or arty. For example, how do people interpret the languorous and often playful waiting that occurs in the film? Also, my sense is that the film is more of a comedy than anything else. Do the comedic moments have more of satirical point to them? I’m looking for some interpretation or reading that could help me get a better grasp of the film.
" For example, how do people interpret the languorous and often playful waiting that occurs in the film? "
Read up on Zen philosophy in Japan, Jazz.
I hope you’re saying that because you don’t have any answers yourself. :)
I’ve been wanting to re-watch this for the longest but I keep putting it off, then today I was gonna re-watch then I got distracted. I’m with you Jazz…I never really understood this film’s significance either o_0
i’ve read that it’s an homage to one of his favorite films, pierrot le fou
…if that helps
I think of it along the lines of Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Jacques Tati, and Jarmusch.
he did start as a comedian :)
i’m not sure this is a film that can be broken down in any logical way, jazzy.
it’s like a zen garden with bursts of violence. i do know why he called it ‘sonatine.’ it’s a musical term meaning ‘little sonata,’ generally used as a practice piece, as anyone who has studied piano remembers well i’m sure. it was the first film where he felt he had gained some measure of control over the medium
Nope—never got pierrot le fou, either. :) (Seriously.)
Well, that makes sense, but I’m still at a loss. I probably have to see this again…and read some Zen Buddhism.
“Nope—never got pierrot le fou, either. :) (Seriously.)”
You’re not the only one.
Well, maybe someone can help us on both films—and by help I don’t mean recommending books to read!
Here’s another question: what about the meaning of the ending—the shootout and the main character eventually shooting himself? Any interpretations?
Maybe this will help?
It’s been a little while since I saw it, but from my memory of the impression I had, I would say it’s not worth stressing about “getting” it. I didn’t sense any satire, but then again I might be wrong.
I do like thinking about it as Tati. It’s kind of just like a little vacation.
(The following is a rant based on the review Matt linked. I appreciate Matt’s attempt to help, and I’m sorry if I appear ungrateful for his efforts.)
From the link Matt posted:
Kitano has made a film so deceptively careless that its deeper qualities can be easily overlooked.
After I read that sentence, I waited in anticipation for some explication on the deeper qualities of the film.
Instead, I got this:
The dialogue is either emphatic or deflective – take your pick. Kitano concentrates so much on faces, but they never show us much, at least not what we expect. His characters react to violence – even when it is inflicted on them – with an ironic stoicism, not at all surprised to find a pistol pointing their direction. And the way he has of holding a shot a few beats after a scene has ended, leaving us to stare at a blank alley or an empty beach.
What the…?! Ugh, I hate those tease sentences like the one above! It’s precisely these “deeper qualities” that you, Mr. Critic, readily recognize that viewers are likely to miss, that I want to you hear you talk about!
Here are two other tease sentences that occur earlier:
From this point on, every event in this seemingly aimless film is fraught with a grave significance, a significance that only becomes fully apparent at the film’s conclusion.
(What’s the significance?!)
But the film is, in fact, quite methodical in providing clues for what is actually going on.
(What are the clues and how does it tell me what’s going on? What’s going on, btw?!)
If anyone can answers these questions, I’d appreciate it.
I do like thinking about it as Tati.
Well, besides the comedic moments, I’d be interested in hearing about any other links between the two.
Honestly it’s been a while since I saw it and only the kind of comedic vacation on the beach moments are the ones I can remember.
Heh. I get ya on that Jazz. It is pretty typical critic speak to allude to something without bothering, or more likely, being able to explain what they are getting at. That’s why you get so many reviews saying something like “this film explores the nature of x” as if that is meaningful in itself. It basically means the critic figured out some rough idea of a theme, but isn’t able to do much more with it. Of course, there is the perfectly legitimate notion that a film isn’t an essay so it not only doesn’t need to have some clear stance, but having one might actually lessen the film, but even so, this simply places a different burden on the critic to think about and speak of the movie, rather than allowing them that sort of lazy and unhelpful style of “explanation”.
“besides the comedic moments, I’d be interested in hearing about any other links between the two.”
Not simply the presence of comedy, but also the prevailing attitude of the protag, which is a sort of stoic deadpan. I guess the beach vacation in Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is an obvious point of comparison, but there’s also something of the sort of quixotic confrontation with modernity that became more explicit in Mon Oncle, Playtime, and Trafic.
jazz, if you want my honest opinion, i think the most fascinating thing about Sonatine is Kitano’s use of form. the juxtaposition between the quiet and ‘loud’ moments; the mix of calm serenity and extreme violence. I also like the use of ellipsis and the distancing effects too. for example, the final shoot out scene is generally obscured from memory. we see a flashes of light but not much else. It seemed like a pretty unique way to film an ‘action’ scene at the time, esp by just showing light outside a window from a distance. Whenever i saw a director shoot action like that, i always suspected they got it from Kitano, including Mann btw. There is a scene in Heat where we just see the flash from a room at a distance.
a lot of people have read all sorts of things into Sonatine. It does have an almost nihilistic streak to it, but i think its attempt to be a genre flick without really being one was central to its appeal at the time. It was like the anti-Scorsese crime flick. the complete antithesis to what was going on stateside in the 90’s.
Personally i’m not convinced the film is quite as good now as it was back in the mid 90’s but i’d still give it a strong 4/5
It is pretty typical critic speak to allude to something without bothering, or more likely, being able to explain what they are getting at.
To some degree, I don’t completely blame critics for this—especially those that write for daily newspapers. I imagine with the amount of films they watch and reviews they write, digging deeper can be difficult, if not impossible. But, imo, that’s the main value they provide as critics. The entertaining writing and skillful summary of a film are nice, but other people with less knowledge of film can do this.
Of course, there is the perfectly legitimate notion that a film isn’t an essay so it not only doesn’t need to have some clear stance, but having one might actually lessen the film, but even so, this simply places a different burden on the critic to think about and speak of the movie, rather than allowing them that sort of lazy and unhelpful style of “explanation”.
I’m not sure if you’re defending critics for digging deeper and “explaining” a film or not, but all films that aren’t straightforward—i.e., has a good story that most people can easily appreciate—need some sort of explanation. At the very least, some explanation of how the film is working and what it’s trying to do—if it’s not trying to tell a good story. This film is a good example. There isn’t much of a story, and the story, by itself, isn’t very compelling or entertaining. Is it working on some irrational, emotional level? The critic should explain how the film does this. Is the film dealing with themes and ideas, instead? Again, the critic should explain this. The critic doesn’t have to explain this as if one and only one interpretation exists, but he should at least offer some explanation.
And if the critic doesn’t feel like the film is very good, he should also go into detail explaining this (saying the film’s story isn’t very good, in this case, wouldn’t suffice, either, imo).
Hmm, I’m not sure I can recall scenes that feel like “quixotic encounters with modernity.” Maybe the way they become indolent, childlike, silly, casual—e.g, the garish aloha shirts—is an example as it contrasts with their way of life in the city? (I have very little idea of what I’m talking about.)
if you want my honest opinion, i think the most fascinating thing about Sonatine is Kitano’s use of form. the juxtaposition between the quiet and ‘loud’ moments; the mix of calm serenity and extreme violence. I also like the use of ellipsis and the distancing effects too.
I appreciate you sharing that. Do you think there is some larger purpose or meaning behind these juxtapositions? (I noticed the juxtaposition of childlike silliness with the stone cold violence—especially in Takeshi’s character. What’s that all about?)
“Maybe the way they become indolent, childlike, silly, casual—e.g, the garish aloha shirts—is an example as it contrasts with their way of life in the city? (I have very little idea of what I’m talking about.)”
yeah, the way it constrasts with the rigid nature of their ‘ordinary’ lives, but the problem with this reading to me is that as criminals they belong to a specific sub-culture of Japanese society that shares a few of the traits of the wider culture but not all of them. So i guess it depends how much you think it’s possible to go from the general to the specific(or vice versa). But if that’s what Matt is referring to, a case can easily be made i’m sure.
He could be saying something about codes of masculinity too, and most of Takeshi’s crime films feature the same sort of characters. not just his crime films either come to think of it. but then he often portrays the female characters in almost the exact same way, only less violent.
So to conclude(this post), Kitano is often making points about Japanese society at large, but i’m not so sure he is doing that in Sonatine. I’d have to watch it again with that reading in mind.
That at least answers part of your question jazz. As for the juxtapositions referred to earlier, i’m not sure. Apart from creating a jolting effect, i think it’s really open to debate. Some will argue that Takeshi may be saying something about man’s capacity for cruelty as well as decency. Others will try and assign an existential meaning to it. After all, if you watch these characters’ lives, they are pretty empty aren’t they? and when they die, it almost seems meaningless, yet the impact stays with you regardless.
Incidentally, on the topic of frailty and the human condition, i’m off to watch the rest of Police Academy. later!
Yeah, think about it in contrast with the typical Yakuza film, where virtually everything that happens (even the violence . . . especially the violence) is structured by a sort of codified way of living. There are moments of that here, but there used more as punctuation to the almost formlessness ^that stuff. It the proverbial “fish out of water” plot, right?
Sure, and that’s a fair distinction in terms of the specifics of the respective characters Tati and Kitano played on screen, but think about Western crime films which there is often an implied social critic even though the characters are part of a somewhat distinct subculture that the average viewer would not be a part of.
“Do you think there is some larger purpose or meaning behind these juxtapositions?”
You mean beyond the suggestion that Kitano thinks this is what life is like—that even the rigid philosophies of living leave a lot of space to be filled by, well, the sort of ephemeral activities you see throughout the film? Also, outside of the “meaning” in terms of story, in a formal sense, the alternating “rhythm” between “closed” behaviors (the codified, Yakuza appropriate stuff) and “open” (the more childlike, vacation-esque activity) works, structurally, as a sort of formal “music” in the film. This may seem far-fetched, but as Harper tells us in a footnote, in Japanese, title of the film is Sonachine, which is a form of Okinawan folk music “which Joe Hisaishi, the film’s composer, quotes liberally throughout his flirtatiously minimalist score.”
( . . . and, no, I have no idea what the phrase “flirtatiously minimalist” is supposed to mean)
I rather like the film and look at it somewhat like what Matt suggests. The yakuza “story” part seems very much in the background and I think is supposed to feel vaguely “narrative” like without actually being a story that would capture your attention away from the other parts of the film. We end up with yakuza who go on an inadvertent vacation. The film works the tension between their violent “professional” lives and the goofing off they do when they unexpectedly find themselves to be tourists on the beach in Okinawa.
That’s an interesting idea to think of it as having a musical-like structure. With that in mind, I would compare it not just to typical yakuza films, but to the mid-60s work of Seijun Suzuki who seemed to be trying to create a hip jazzy style that was fast and staccato but was also filled with odd comedic interludes like the rice-sniffing habits of the killer in Branded to Kill.