We’re definitely getting better at the move thing. Less than two days since the question arose, we have already put down a deposit on a new place and given notice at our current one. It’s 20% more expensive for me, but with a much bigger personal space, I will actually be able to keep my music equipment in the bedroom, and do more with it without disturbing anyone. Less communal space, however, the place is smaller overall. Taken proportionally, overall rent is slightly up on the current space, in line with inflation. It’s a far better location, closer to work for me, but far far closer for my flatmate – five minutes walk for her. Transport links are better, and we’ll be close enough to the centre of Dublin to walk – hardly further than what I was doing to and from work. I’ll probably document the drama as it unfolds, of course.
Last night I made myself sit still long enough to see a film I’ve had on DVD for months, yet never watched properly: hana-bi (花火, Fireworks). This was the most critically successful film by actor/director Kitano Takeshi, who stars as Nishi, a police officer unable to cope with the changes in his life. His wife is terminally ill with leukaemia, but that’s only half his troubles. While he’s away from a stakeout visiting her, his partner is shot and crippled; shortly afterward, while tracking the gangsters responsible, two young cops in his charge are killed. Shamed, he leaves the police force, then finds himself in financial debt to a group of Yakuza, possibly the same ones responsible for his professional disgrace.
All is not lost, however: his crippled colleague first attempts suicide, then takes up art, and some of his work punctuates the film, interleaving the action and drama with bright, dayglo images of ordinary life and events. Nishi smoothly robs a bank to pay back the Yakuza, but makes several visits to a scrapyard while planning the job, befriending the owner, whose encounters with his “staff” and a local wimp provide some light relief.
Nishi is hardly a “new man”: macho to a fault, unable to back down when the Yakuza, envious of his sudden wealth, come looking for more. They track him as he takes his terminally ill wife to the mountains for a last holiday. His wife is almost totally mute, not speaking until the very end, yet they both find bizarre humour in his attempts to be a good husband, hardly what she was used to when Nishi was a cop. The police catch up to him: will he submit to their arrest? Hardly.
Kitano Takeshi (北野 武), whose name can be translated as “warrior of the northern plains”, acts under the name “Beat” Takeshi, and this is pretty much his film: he directed it, edited it, starred in it, wrote some of the music, and even created the stunning artwork that features heavily in the second half of the film, as Nishi’s crippled partner recovers. One painting, a shocking abstract portrayal of suicide, raises questions of just how much he knew, considering he had received a package of money from Nishi by post.
A critical success, hana-bi won the Golden Lion award at the 1997 Venice Film Festival. Is it a violent film? In places: Nishi only does damage as much as he feels necessary – and, in committing the bank robbery, shows how to do without it – but it is clear that violence is the only language spoken by his enemies. Nishi spends whole scenes mute, behind sunglasses, observing, not responding. How should he respond to what life has thrown at him? Can he change without losing himself?. hana-bi is one poetic answer to the questions asked of a man whose life is crumbling away beneath his feet.