The film stars "Beat" Takeshi as a mid-level Yakuza boss, Murakawa, who is tiring of the gangster lifestyle and planning to retire soon. Murakawa is to be sent with numerous other Yakuza to Okinawa to mediate a conflict between two Yakuza clans and reach a truce. Upon arriving in Okinawa, things take a turn for the worse. Murakawa's temporary HQ is bombed and he is ambushed in a bar with many of his men, leaving several of them dead. Murakawa and the survivors flee to the seaside and take refuge at a house on the beach and wait for the conflict in Okinawa to settle before returning. Free of danger and restrictions, Murakawa and his men begin turning their time of being forced into hiding into a wacky vacation. Murakawa and his men play Russian Roulette, play pranks on each other, play frisbee, shoot at said frisbee, and more. Murakawa even finds love in an abused woman, Miyuki, who shows up to the beach. Everything is fine as the group lives carefree on the beach. But then, things take a turn for the worse.
Though a commercial failure in Japan, the film received the praise of critics and led to successful sales in Europe, eventually garnering the film numerous awards. The film was perceived as a serious step forward for actor/director Takeshi Kitano, previously known mostly for his comedic work, who would go on to become one of Japan's most lucrative and renowned contemporary filmmakers.
Sonatine is unique in that it starts as a standard-fare gangster crime film, but is turned on it's head, changing into a violent, philosophical arthouse film painting the portrait of an aging gangster on a personal journey to find oneself and live life to it's fullest, but is denied the wish to leave his criminal life behind. A must-see for fans of Takeshi Kitano and Japanese cinema.
Was brought to the states for distribution by Quentin Tarantino as a part of his "Rolling Thunder Pictures" collection.
This Film Provides Examples Of:
- Black Comedy: The sheer absurdity and randomness of the actions of Murakawa and his underlings at the beach house invoke this in an otherwise grim and violent gangster movie.
- Chekhov's Gun: The bag of guns and Murakawa's dream.
- Downer Ending: Unable to leave his criminal life behind, and with most of his men dead, Murakawa commits suicide in a car after wiping out most of the Nakamatsu and Anan clan in an act of revenge. The womanMiyukiis left alone, waiting for Murakawa after promising her that he would return.
- Dull Surprise: A common complaint of Kitano's acting style, in this film and others.
- More likely due to having experienced a lifetime of violence and death he Murakawa and the other Yakuza have become so detached to violence and used to death nothing phases them anymore and worse do not have much to live for.
- Fanservice: Miyuki.
- Fast-Forward Gag: Happens when the gang sets up a sumo ring at the beach and start to have fun.
- Foreshadowing: Murakawa's dream.
- Mind Screw: The sudden change from a serious crime drama to a quirky and more light-hearted arthouse film in the second act is pretty polarizing.
- Even more so mind screwy when it switches BACK to a violent gangster movie for the third act.
- Russian Roulette: One of the film's most notable scenes. Subverted in that the gun is empty.
- The Stinger: After the credits, a footage of the deserted beach is shown.
- The Stoic: Pretty much all of the older gangsters including Murakawa. The emotionally reserved nature of Japanses society along with a lifetime of being dulled to violence led them to express very little emotion in most situations though they do lighten up a bit on the beach.