A testament to a career that loses its way someway along the journey!
Screenplay By: Takeshi Kitano
Directed By: Takeshi Kitano
The image that most people associate with gangsters is that put forth by such films as The Godfather. The idea is that gangsters have a certain nobility about them. Gangsters aren’t just killers and crazy men, they are men who are driven by an unwritten code of ethics that outsiders can’t understand. But, what we can’t understand we can appreciate, and the elegant image associated with gangsters in the majority of popular films leaves us no choice but to appreciate the stubborn nobility of the gangster.
The idea of the noble gangster is even more prevalent in Japanese culture. The Yakuza, Japanese gangsters, have traditionally been portrayed as modern day samurai. They have untold levels of honor, and while they may operate within the seedy underbelly of their culture they are somehow above the miscreants who otherwise make up said seedy underbelly. Along comes a film like Autoreiji, a film from a man who made plenty of Yakuza flicks about their honorable ways. Yet this time Takeshi Kitano takes the idea of the honorable Yakuza and turns it on its head.
The Yakuza in Autoreiji aren’t honorable, even if they believe they are. They are killers who are out for their own good, and willing to sacrifice anyone and everything to maintain their status at the top of the gangster world. When Kitano-san shows a gangster cutting off his own finger as a gesture of sacrifice he frames it so that the lie is very much in the viewers face. That particular Yakuza may put forth the notion that he is cutting off his finger for honor, but in reality he is doing so to save his own skin. Autoreiji is full of characters that care only for their own well being, which becomes more apparent as the body count within the film rises.
I liked the way that Kitano-san went about using his own career and the Yakuza films that are a staple of Japanese culture to attack the idea of honor amongst murderers. However, the violence in Autoreiji does undermine the main theme of the film. Kitano-san appears to relish in the moments of violence. No matter how artfully shot they were I couldn’t shake the feeling that the moments of violence went against the attack on gangster honor that the film is striving for. By focusing so much on the violence and fetishizing it Kitano-san draws the focus away from the idea of the not so honorable Yakuza and instead puts the focus on how cool his moments of violence can look.
Not everyone will agree with my take on the violence in Autoreiji, truth be told I can easily see why others would not take any issue with the usage of violence. I couldn’t reconcile the way the violence was shot with the films treatise on the film image of the honorable gangster. This held me back from loving Autoreiji, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from liking the film. Kitano-san gave me a lot to chew on, and for the most part I enjoyed what I was munching on. But, every once in a while the film gave me a piece of gristle that was hard to digest. It’s for that reason that Autoreiji was a filling meal, but not one that sat well with my stomach.