DVD: Sonatine (18)

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The Independent Culture

It is hard to explain the position of Takeshi Kitano in Japanese culture – both an internationally respected film-maker and popular television comedian, it's like Jonathan Ross directing and starring in his own art-house flicks.

If you sometimes watch obscure digital channels then you may also know him as the Count in Takeshi's Castle, a Japanese game show originally made in the late 1980s that has now become something of a cult hit over here. Six of his best films are now being re-released on their own after appearing together as a box set last year, with the pick of the bunch being Sonatine. It tells of a group of gangsters, led by Murakawa (Kitano), who are sent to the southern Japanese island of Okinawa to sort out a feud. Murakawa, suspecting a plot against him, ends up taking his men to a beach house where they begin to relax, yet violence is never far away. Released in 1993, Sonatine is a good introduction to Kitano's unusual style, which manages to be both minimalist and bleak whilst containing moments of hilarious farce. Kitano's lead performance is similarly deadpan, whilst the frequent moments of violence often seem serenely detached. The other films released include a slapstick comedy about a man's quest to have sex in a car (Getting Any?) and a touching romance (A Scene at the Sea), showcasing Kitano's appealing eccentricity.