The Late Show
Japan, 2010, 109 min
Takeshi Kitano makes a long-awaited return to the gangster genre with this embittered look at the formal hierarchies and manipulative “honor” of the Japanese yakuza, and what happens to those on the losing end of the power struggle. A crisis is triggered within a powerful syndicate by, of all things, too much friendship between enemies. One boss is too chummy with a rival, which demands the sending of a message—though with a certain restraint. Unfortunately, the low-level boss picked for the job is Otomo (Kitano), who doesn’t know the meaning of restraint (a particular dentist-chair scene makes this point perfectly clear). Suddenly a war is on, as rivals become allies and allies rivals. For the ever-scheming opportunists of the yakuza, however, allies are just those people you vow loyalty to before eventually killing. Leaving behind the cheerful eccentricities of his more recent work and the playful experimentation of earlier gangster masterpieces like Sonatine (SFIFF 1995), Kitano moves into far bleaker, almost existential terrain. To borrow the title of a seminal 1973 Kinji Fukasaku film, the battles here are truly without honor or humanity, and seemingly destined to play on a continuous loop for eternity.