Boiling Point

May 3, 2000 at 12:00 am

The first Takeshi Kitano film to get distribution in America, Fireworks (1997), was obviously a mature work, somber and assured in tone, effortlessly pictorial and anchored by the writer-director’s collapsed acting style. Expressionless, he peered out at the world from some deep recess of isolation, only becoming animated when moved to violence.

Working our way backward, his next U.S. release was Sonatine (1993), a gangster film with a long center of often comic digressions, an extended pause while the principle waited for the storyline to resume.

Continuing backward, we now have Violent Cop (1989), Kitano’s first feature as actor and director, working from a script by Hiroshi Nozawa (which, reportedly, the director rewrote heavily). Noticeably less eccentric than his later work, this one has a familiar Dirty Harry scenario, but with Eastwood’s pained squint replaced by Kitano’s facade of paralytic boredom.

This renegade cop is no avenging angel of righteousness, but rather a warrior down in the muck, going through the motions. Even when he’s beating the crap out of a prisoner, his pervasive passivity precludes any expression of sadistic pleasure. It’s as though he’s alienated from the code he’s defending, depressed to the point of indifference by its intrinsic demands of fairness, but still serving it in principle.

Inevitably, his unorthodox efficiency leads to dismissal, just around the time he’s beginning to sniff out corruption in the department. With its seemingly unstoppable villain, its excessive body count and darkly ironic twist ending, Cop is both a rousing action-splatter flick and a small masterpiece of nihilistic intent.

With his second film, Boiling Point (1990), Kitano drops any pretense of acknowledging genre conventions. His wholly original script follows a nearly catatonic young man, a would-be baseball player who blunders his way into the Japanese underworld until he finds himself in the presence of a moody, psychotic gangster called Uehara (played, of course, by Kitano).

Just as Cop’s world of corruption spawned its rotted hero, Boiling Point’s world of stupidity has birthed Uehara, the monster fool. It’s an intensely misanthropic film, very funny in parts, casually brutal in others, a Swiftian satire, heartless and very attractive.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].