on July 20, 2001 by Kevin Courrier
Takeshi Kitano's career has certainly been an illustrious one. For over 10 years, he's directed and starred in numerous comically violent gangster melodramas--such as the international hits "Fireworks (Hana-Bi)" and "Sonatine." In those films, Kitano has played a completely deadpan and bemused action figure. With a sense of humor about as stoic as a statue, he packs some of that Clint Eastwood emotional armor, adds a pinch of Charles Bronson's rugged features, puts on some Roy Orbison sunglasses, and then--with a twitch of his eye--becomes this immovable screen icon.

In "Brother," he brings his Yakuza gangster legend to the shores of California. Yamamoto (Takeshi Kitano) is a member of the Japanese Yakuza who is deeply involved in a gang war. When he gets banished to the United States, he looks up his younger brother, Ken (Claude Maki), who's fighting a drug war of his own against the Mafia. Yamamoto, with the help of his brother and new-found friend (Omar Epps), turns their small-time outfit into a powerful one that holds a grip on the L.A. underworld.

Kitano's stock brutality is in full evidence in "Brother." Yet despite the intermittent jokeyness, the cheap gangster mythologizing gets a bit tiresome. If "Brother" were an exploration of how Yamamoto's code of honor provided a perfect home for his psychopathic tendencies, "Brother" might be about something. Starring Takeshi Kitano, Omar Epps and Claude Maki. Directed and written by Takeshi Kitano. Produced by Jeremy Thomas and Masayuki Mori. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Japanese-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 107 min

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