Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano received international acclaim for his films Hana-Bi and Boiling Point. They take place in the world of Japanese Yakuza gangs and are punctuated by sharp violence, dry sarcasm, and a sense of philosophical underpinning that sets Kitano apart from his gangster genre peers. As he puts it, “there are some modern gangster movies that I like, but the ones we've been seeing lately, with all those exploding cars, they simply repulse me.”
Brother is his first film in English. Kitano is writer, director, and actor. He plays Aniki Yamamoto, an exiled Tokyo thug who brings his Yakuza code of honor to the drug wars of Los Angeles. But it's not that kind of movie, and no American action hero could serve up the acting subtleties of Kitano's Aniki. Brother represents a successful synthesis of Kitano's beautiful severity with a more American sensibility, wrapped in sly irony.
Though it tells of the chaos that Aniki brings when he seeks refuge with his young brother Ken (Claude Maki), the movie isn't organized around violence. Ken and his friends had been living as small-time drug runners, but Aniki's unflinchingly professional aggression quickly sets them on a course for bigger fish. The level of characterization is high for any movie. The relationship between Denny (Omar Epps) and Aniki is particularly well-done: it begins with Denny trying to jack the foreigner for some pocket change (bad idea) and slowly gets fleshed out. By the film's end, one realizes that Brother refers as much to their relationship as any other. This reviewer caught it several months before the July general release, and it maintains his vote for best movie of the year.