BLOOD AND BONES (2004) is directed by Yoichi Sai; a Japanese-born Korean who is also responsible for such acclaimed hits such as "Soo" and "Quill". It has been revealed that Sai had waited 6 years for Takeshi Kitano to star in this film of a truly dark character study of a Korean immigrant in Japan and rightfully so. I do believe that no one but an actor of Kitano's caliber would be able to pull this off. This is the first time in almost 10 years that Kitano steps into the screen under the direction of someone other than himself. This film is Yoichi Sai's breakout hit, and Takeshi "Beat" Kitano gives a remarkable performance as one; if not the MOST unlikable characters in Asian cinema. I kid you not.
In 1923, Kim Shunpei (Takeshi Kitano) left Cheju, an isolated island in South Korea for Osaka, Japan dreaming of making a fortune in a new land.
Contrary to his hopes, what was waiting for Kim in Japan is a life of discrimination and hard labor. With ruthlessness and cunning wiles, Kim overcomes the obstacles against him to open a Kamaboko (Fish cake) factory, which before long is a success, bringing him the fortune he coveted for so long. Kim Shun-pei gradually becomes a ruthless, merciless loan shark. Blood and Bones paints an unflinching portrait of a man deeply bound to his ego and obsessions and the web of turmoil his wife, mistresses, children, relatives and all those around him are drawn into as a result of his brutal choices and malevolent nature.
The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Yan Sugiru, it is a defining role for Takeshi Kitano. Blood and Bones is not a heartwarming story about a man who rises above all obstacles to achieve his fortune and pride. Shunpei Kim is one individual who has achieved all his riches at the hardships of others. The first scene actually shows him sexually abusing his wife in front of his daughter, truly this is a character study of a malevolent brutal man who thrives on intimidation and violence. Kim beats his wife and children and even has his mistress move into a new house that he had purchased across the corner; a demonstration of his insufferable character. This is a man incapable of any love or tenderness, his one driving force may be rage and violence.
The Fish Cake factory employees are also treated with abuse and disregard. When an employee asked for a raise in pay, his response is brutal abuse. His rise as a prominent figure in the Korean community in Japan was not fueled by accommodation and admiration but rather by violence and intimidation. When his Fish cake fortune grew, he expanded his enterprise to loan sharking. He walks the street with a big stick and mercilessly beats all who owes him money.
If you read between the lines and the images of the film you will see that there may be a hidden reason behind Kim's malevolent ruthless nature, it may be because he had suffered abuse and torture in Korea as signified by the scars on his back. (I didn't feel any sympathy or understanding for him though). One may wonder how such behavior can be tolerated. Unfortunately, the spirits of his family and relatives have been pounded to powder by this insufferable character. They feel that they can't move away nor challenge his ire. Kim doesn't even pretend that everything is well in his household.
As the decades past, we see Kim's family grow and his mistresses have children of their own. The film focuses mostly on Kim's character that most supporting roles eventually disappear through the times. The viewer can tell that the passage of time would occur with the birth of grandchildren, the appearance of cars and passing aircraft. Director Sai gives the film a very claustrophobic feel by immersing the viewer in the proceedings in a single street, which after awhile, becomes mostly occupied by Shunpei Kim's family and relatives. Six decades of the film's backdrop is compressed into 2 ½ hours. Unfortunately, I have no knowledge of the history of Korean immigrants in Japan so I cannot fully express the reasons behind the situation.
"Blood and Bones" is an unflinching character study of a single man, but in all fairness and honesty, it only serves as a backdrop for Kitano's fantastic performance. If one is familiar with Kitano‘s acting resume, the character of Shunpei Kim may well be the sum total of all the ruthless characters Kitano has played in the past. Critics may say that the scenes may get a bit repetitive after awhile, Kim beats, abuses and uses through the decades but that is the WHOLE point. No redeeming qualities, no change happens within Kim, no realization of his mistakes, no conscience, NO regret and remorse. "Blood and Bones" is truly unrelenting and maybe even nihilistic at times. Shunpei Kim remains and stands as one, if not the most malevolent figures (if intriguing) characters in cinema; Japanese, Korean or Hollywood. This film can't be described as anything but "epic violence". This film is one of those that silenced my voice for awhile, and with the second viewing privy to this review, it did not lose any of its effect. I still feel no sympathy for Kim's character and felt a bit disturbed about the things he has done. In reality, such people do exist in real life. Sad, but true.
RECOMMENDED timidly for fans of truly challenging cinema [4 ½ stars]
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