Hana-bi is a Japanese feature film that was released in 1997. Takeshi Kitano wrote, directed and starred in Hana-bi. Kitano is a well-known director and actor who now has his own film company, named Office Kitano. He is best known for his dramas involving the Japanese mob scene, and his work is easily recognizable. Kitano has a flair for having long takes on film where nothing much really happens. This is practically unheard of in cinema today and is what makes Kitano so easily noticeable. When translated into English, Hana-bi literally means flower-fire. It may also be labeled as Fireworks.
Hana-bi is the story about Nishi. Nishi is known as the “cop’s cop”. His whole career has been about taking down the mob and all of the crime elements in his district. He has to endure a heart-wrenching reality when his daughter dies and his wife is diagnosed with un-curable Lukemia. One night on a stake-out, Nishi’s friend, Horibe, convinces him to go and visit his wife at the hospital. At first Nishi refuses, but eventually he agrees and leaves Horibe to himself. News comes to Nishi that Horibe has been shot by members of the mob. He eventually discovers that Horibe will be forever wheel-chair bound because of the shooting.
Nishi can think of nothing but vengeance and kills the criminals that put his partner in a wheelchair. This leaves the police force with no choice but to fire him. Nishi borrows a large sum of money from a gang of mobsters in order to help pay off mounting medical debts as well as to give his wife a wonderful last few weeks. When it comes time to pay the money back, Nishi is unable to. He buys an old taxi from a junkyard and paints it to look like a police car. He then goes into a bank and robs it using a fake gun. He gives the money he steals back to the mob.
The only problem is that he only gave the mob enough to cover the principle of the loan. The interest is still outstanding and Nishi knows that the mob will come after him for the money. It is, in fact, what he is planning on. Nishi takes his wife to Mt. Fuji and waits for the mob to come and find him.
Kitano’s movies are known for their blood and gore, which is why it was so shocking when it won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. It is also interesting to note that dozens of critics praised the film, including Roger Ebert. He gave the movie three out of four possible stars and praised the film as well as the film maker. While you would think that the movie would be popular as a cult hit, due to its gore, it has actually become known best in art circles. The film has been considered a piece of cinematographic art.