Plot: What’s it about?
Yamamoto (Takeshi “Beat” Kitano) is a yakuza gangster on his own, after his own crime family was wiped out back in Japan. He looks toward new grounds however, as he treks off to Los Angeles to track down his half-brother, as well as test the waters as far as criminal presence is concerned. Yamamoto has a lot of cash to spread around to the right people and one mean disposition, as evidenced when he bumps into an irate pedestrian, resulting in a broken bottle to the face for the other person. As it turns out, his half-brother is involved in a small time drug ring and once Yamamoto arrives, it looks like business could move to the next level. He soon meets and becomes friends with a street hustler named Denny (Omar Epps) and soon enough, Denny and his homies have sided with Yamamoto. Now these forces plan to join up with another yakuza organization, to take aim on the drug trafficking realm and take control from their enemies, but it won’t be easy, especially with the various culture clashes…
If you’re a fan of mobster/gangster/yakuza cinema, then prepare to rejoice, as Takeshi “Beat” Kitano’s Brother is one of the best entries in a long while. Kitano writes & directs here and infuses the film with style and of course, loads of violence soaked sequences. The story is not overlooked however, as the premise is a good one and never hits the skids, thanks to well drafted characters & plot movement. It can be hard to watch at times if you’re squeamish, but the realistic approach to violence was a wise choice, without a doubt. In short, Brother is one of the finest organized crime films in the past decade, perhaps even of all time and as such, fans of the genre shouldn’t miss this one. As cool as the movie is however, the disc itself is another matter and Columbia has botched this one to no end. The disc has no bonus materials, features an altered visual transfer, sports digital erasure of some elements, and has even been trimmed by a couple minutes. Yes, this is the same version of Brother that played in American theaters, but rest assured, this is not how the film was meant to be seen. As such, I can’t recommend this disc even as a rental, but since the uncut, unaltered version is unavailable in the U.S., a region free player is your only chance to see Brother in the intended form.
Although he is perhaps best known for his use of unflinching violence in films, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano is not just a shock artist, not even close. Yes, he often dashes in liberal amounts of brutal violence, vicious attacks, and plenty of gun usage, but he also instills memorable characters, solid storylines, and a good amount of visual spark at times. Kitano is not all flash however and more often than not, drops the style points when it comes time to focus on violence, which makes it more realistic and unglamorous. Of course, Kitano has proven he can also work with more sensitive subject matter, but his main course still comes from his more intense, violent pictures. Other films directed by Kitano include Violent Cop, Kikujiro, Kids Return, Sonatine, Boiling Point, and Fireworks. The cast also includes Omar Epps (Love & Basketball, Dracula 2000), Claude Maki (A Scene at the Sea), and Tatyana Ali (Kiss the Girls, Jawbreaker).
Video: How does it look?
Brother is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image here looks sharp and has minimal flaws, but sadly, it alters some elements from the original Japanese version of the film. I noticed a lot of color shifts present, from brighter to more muted and vice versa, some of which change the tone & impact of the scene, which just plain sucks. This is not drastic at all times, but I fail to understand why it was done, since the film had an intended color scheme and Columbia should have respected that. The black levels also seem altered in some scenes and in a few cases, to extreme levels. As such, regardless of how good the image is, it is not how it should be and as such, deserves little praise. Yes, this is how Brother looked in American theaters, but this is not how Brother was intended to look, so I am quite displeased.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 surround option is more than solid, with some decent sparks here and there to spice it up a little. The dialogue is a mixture of English and Japanese, all of which sounds clean and effective in this mix. I wish subtitles would have kicked in when Japanese was spoken and then off in the English moments, but that’s wishful thinking and since the mix is good, I won’t complain much. The more action driven scenes provide some nice surround presence, but not enough to push this mix to the next level, due to the reserved, non-Hollywood approach to the action sequences. This disc also includes a 2.0 surround track, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc contains no bonus materials.