***.7 GM
Starring: Beat Takeshi, Omar Epps, Claude Maki, Masaya Kato, James Shigeta


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Takeshi Kitano directed this film. He also starred in it. However, when he acts in movies, he calls himself Beat Takeshi. That's bitchin'.

This is a really cool film about a guy named Aniki Yamamoto, a badass within Japanese organized crime (Yakuza) that finds himself exiled once his boss is killed and the rest of his crew sells out to the other side. So he takes off to Los Angeles, where he's got a relative he's been secretly funding for a while... of course, rather than going to college, his half-brother Ken is pushing drugs and running with some small-time thugs. Aniki shrugs, and then almost immediately goes out and raises the stakes, and soon enough, they're running a powerful and rich organization in the gang wars of L.A., which works out fine until they hook up with a Japanese rival named Shirase, whose overzealous shenanigans wind up getting them all in more trouble than they can handle.

Overall, it's very well put together, with excellent bits of cinematography and perfect little mood-setting images that you might not even notice happening at times, since they come so quickly and fit in so seamlessly with the story. Takeshi is funny and smooth as the twitchy, stoic badass that singlehandedly starts blowing the supposedly intimidating opponents away, amazing his own crew as well as the victims. Omar Epps is cool as usual as Denny, the gang member that Aniki forms a bond with despite their ugly first run-in, and their unique verbal sparring is often the only time Aniki allows himself to smile. It's a really funny, quietly violent crime story that ends as it should, doesn't compromise and features some truly disturbing moments showcasing the devotion the Yakuza brothers have towards each other.

The dialog, at times, is a bit uneven, there are awkward time jumps here and there and there's a wordless and pointless cameo by Tatyana Ali, but the characters are appealing and involving, and there's always a curiosity as to what Aniki is going to pull next in that silent, assured demeanor of his. As much as I tend to loathe pointless comparisons like this, Beat Takeshi brings to mind a Japanese Harvey Keitel-sorta guy, and that's a good thing.

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