These Japanese movies are getting sentimental on me! First Battle Royale, and now Fireworks (1997), which I had previously known only as an acclaimed Yakuza movie from Takashi Kitano. But here, instead of just showing impassive gangsters killing each other like they did in Outrage, Takeshi Kitano gives us a sweet little movie about a retired cop named Nishi (Takashi Kitano) trying to make his dying wife happy. Well, he also impassively shoots Yakuzas and sticks chopsticks in their eyes (this must be Kitano's trademark).
In some ways, Fireworks is a near perfect mix of calmness and violence. There's a scene where Nishi beats up a man who mocks his wife for trying to water dead flowers. In the next shot, the wife is fishing while the cop sits next to her in total silence, neither of them talking but both of them recognizing each other's love. It's a bittersweet moment; funny and sad at the same time.
It's too bad that the stillness and poetry in the movie's best scenes can turn into cheesiness in its worst. Much of this comes from the music, which reminds me of the stuff John Woo uses to ruin his own gangster flics. There's also the story of the cop's retired friend who is trying to become a painter. He looks at flowers for long periods of time and then paints works that straddle the line between the terrible and the ingenious. It's not a bad idea, but Kitano could probably serve his film better if he didn't devote so much time to what are actually his own paintings.
When I reviewed Outrage last week, I guessed that I'd find stronger and tighter stuff if I went back in Kitano's catalogue. Well, Fireworks's loose narrative actually works pretty well, and Takeshi gives his film room to breathe, but it's still a movie that works better in small moments than it does as a whole. Then again, these small moments do start to accumulate, and in the end, the whole film is nearly as tender and poignant as those scenes of Nishi and his wife sitting solemnly together, knowing everything without having to say a word.