By KJ Doughton | July 16, 2001

Takeshi “Beat” Kitano is a leathery-faced, 53-year-old Japanese filmmaker whose laconic, silent cool makes Clint Eastwood look like Robin Williams on amphetamines. In Brother, which the hugely popular Nippon presence wrote, edited, directed, and starred in, he saunters in and out of cabs, hotels, and Los Angeles streets like an Eastern Reservoir Dog. Donning a black sport jacket and shades, Kitano even keeps it cool as he’s smashing bottles over the head of a threatening hoodlum. But there’s also a resigned quality to Kitano as he plays Yamamoto, a Yakuza higher-up searching for half-brother Ken (Kuroudo Maki) in the City Of Angels, after his crime family in Japan is terminated by a rival gang. Yamamoto’s face might be craggy and hard, but his tired eyes are those of a man who has seen it all. Nothing surprises this guy anymore, as he spends most of Brother literally laughing in the face of death.
After watching this stone-faced loner track down Ken, we learn that the two were once orphans in Japan, institutionalized together for years to form a bond that has extended into adulthood. However, Yamamoto is mortified to find that the younger sibling has frittered away money meant to finance an education in America, and gotten involved in an amateur drug dealing operation. Also involved in this bottom-of-the-barrel ring are Denny (Omar Epps), Jaye (Royale Watkins), and Mo (Lombardo Moyar), who are puzzled by the quiet manner of Ken’s relative. “My brother doesn’t speak English,” Ken informs his fellow toughs. “What do I do with him?” Yamamoto impresses the group with his ability to cheat at cards, before going on to single-handedly turn the gang into L.A.’s most ferocious underworld force.
Brother can be hysterically funny. The less professional crooks stand by, shaken and wide-eyed, as their new leader shoots his way through rival Asian criminals, black gangs, and Mafia henchmen, all with the laid-back elegance of a seasoned dancer. So matter-of-fact is Yamamoto’s style that even the most horrific violence in the film is often laugh inducing. Take, for instance, a hotel meeting with Mexican crime rivals, where failed negotiations lead to tension at a table rigged with guns, hidden beneath its surface. “F*****g Jap,” giggles an unimpressed adversary from across the wooden surface. “You can’t even speak English.” Suddenly, Yamamoto lets loose with a hailstorm of lead. As the smoke rises from a pile of dead Mexicans, this killer unleashes the corker: “I understand ‘f*****g Jap,’ a******s.”
As soon as you can say “upward mobility,” the group has a swank new headquarters, complete with indoor basketball court and a personal accountant. But all good things must come to an end, as Yamamoto finds out while trying to waste some persistent Italian goodfellas that simply won’t lie down and play dead. Eventually, the veteran lowlife finds that life in America has dealt him the same hand as the Far East had, as he endures a cluster of “Scarface”-level bullet exchanges. If you have a taste for ironic, jet-black humor, Brother delivers. As an action film, however, Kitano provides more routine fare that seldom matches the dark beauty of similar blood cinema masters, like John Woo or early Brian DePalma. Still, this overseas heir to Clint Eastwood certainly commands authority.
Get the whole story in the next part of VIOLENT KIDS! TERRORISTS! DELUSIONAL INMATES! TARANTINO!

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