Nishi (writer-director Takeshi Kitano) is a hardnosed cop, reserved in terms of personality but prone to outbursts of casual violence. He's revered by colleagues. However, his personal life is in turmoil: his daughter died not so long ago, and for the last two years his wife Miyuki (Kayoko Kishimoto) has been hospitalised, dying of leukaemia.

While on a stakeout outside the home of a violent criminal, his partner Horibe (Ren Osugi) persuades Nishi to go and visit his wife in hospital. As a favour, Horibe stays to do Nishi's stakeout shift in order that he can visit Miyuki. Unfortunately, this results in Horibe taking several bullets during a run-in with the criminal.

Nishi is assured by his fellow cops that he's not to blame for the fact that Horibe will never walk again. Even Horibe doesn't blame him, despite the fact that his wife and child have left him now that he's crippled.

But Nishi feels bad.

And he's not about to feel any better, as he tries his best to be there for Horibe but can't help his friend combat depression. He tries his best to be there for Miyuki when the hospital tells him there's nothing more they can do for her and she would be better off at home, but can't seem to find the words. He tries his best to keep the local yakuza's debt collectors off his back, despite knowing that he can no longer afford to pay off his loan since retiring from his job to care full-time for his wife.

Despite his cold exterior, everything reaches boiling point for Nishi and he knows action must be taken. He devises a plan that, in his eyes, will sort out all of his problems: pay off the mafia, secure Horibe's future, and provide his wife with the trip her doctors have advised would be beneficial to her.

It doesn't take a genius to realise these plans will soon go awry...

HANA-BI is a classic. While VIOLENT COP - Kitano's directorial debut - remains perhaps his most gratifying film in terms of sheer entertainment, this is the one that hones his craft most perfectly. Everything that we expect of the man as a filmmaker is perfected here: the extended passages of pensive silence; the short, sharp bursts of unexpected gory violence; the subtle use of humour; the paradoxically whimsical score. It's all here, and it all comes together even better than it does in other Kitano classics such as SONATINE and BOILING POINT.

Kitano is, of course, cool as fuck in the lead role. Whether wearing his little sunglasses or simply staring into space, his face is one that perplexes as much as it engrosses. Through body language alone, he's capable of being at once funny, sinister and uncannily affecting. A true star.

The rest of the cast are brilliant here too. Osugi is particularly moving, and it's his paintings - Nishi buys him a set of paints to encourage his aspirations as an artist following his misfortune - that provide a real heart to the film: they represent both Kitano's artistic bent, and his character Nishi's belief that there is still beauty to be found in this otherwise oppressive world. They are the hope in the midst of despair.

A great, great film - I can't recommend HANA-BI highly enough. It works on many levels. On the one hand, it's a meditative reflection on life, love, loyalty and finding yourself once you've been lost. On the other, it is a comedy of manners - even the sporadic beatings and shootings carry an air of offbeat humour about them. And it's also highly emotive, a tale of friendship that goes way beyond the scope of comparatively trite "buddy cop" films like LETHAL WEAPON.

Have I mentioned the violence? I'm sure I have. But just in case, I'll do it again. No-one in the world films violence like Takeshi Kitano. It comes from nowhere, leaves just as suddenly, but creates such an impact during its short extreme bursts. It's violence as art, people.

Third Window Films bring HANA-BI to UK blu-ray and it looks tremendous.

Presented as an MPEG4-AVC file, the film is given the benefit of full 1080p HD resolution in a transfer that has been struck from a largely clean print. A colourful, bright film visually, it lends itself well to a high definition presentation: colours are deep and true, flesh tones are accurate throughout, detail is dense and sharp. Watching HANA-BI on blu-ray allowed me to fall in love with its effortless style all over again.

Lossless Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD audio does its job well, providing a consistent, well-balanced and clean playback from beginning to end. The moments of eerie quiet that punctuate much of the film are pleasingly noise-free, while the bone-crunching sound design of the sporadic scenes of violence has never sounded so shattering. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times.

The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection menu allowing access to HANA-BI via 16 chapters.

Extras begin with an audio commentary from film journalist Mark Schilling. He fills his chat with facts, including personal involvement in several stories (direct interviews with Kitano etc). Occasional pregnant pauses don't prove to be too problematic.

We also get an archive, window-boxed interview with Kitano. The self-deprecating auteur is as charismatic in the flesh as he is in film, here marvelling over how his films are virtually unknown in Japan and explaining how he balanced TV work with film work in a bid for one to influence the other. Renowned as a comedian and TV personality in his homeland, we also get to see a fair bit of footage of him fooling around on the small screen. Priceless.

A 27-minute featurette misleadingly titled "Director Takashi Kitano Retrospective" is actually the same short that featured on the UK DVD several years ago - i.e., nothing more than a succession of trailers for several of Kitano's films. Still, it serves as a welcome reminder as to just how brilliant VIOLENT COP is. Third Window Films, if you're reading this, this film desperately needs your love and attention!

Finally we get a 2-minute trailer for this new HD remastering of HANA-BI.

The blu-ray disc comes in a regular keepcase with additional slipcase packaging.

Hoorah for Third Window Films, I'm elated that they've brought the wonderful HANA-BI to blu-ray - and that they've done such a great job of doing so.

Highly recommended.

Review By Stuart Willis

Released by Third Window Films
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review