In an ongoing series, Lumière asks a diverse range of film critics about the movie(s) that got them into movies.

ALEXANDER BISLEY: I got the movie habit before, others works had wowed me, but there was something about seeing Hana-bi (Fireworks) on the big screen. Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano’s ne plus ultra is electrifying and transformative. In 1951, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon was the first Japanese work to win Best Film at the Venice Film Festival; the turning point for Kurosawa in becoming Kurosawa (and also for Japanese cinema in becoming a global force). In 1997, Hana-bi became the second to win. Kitano is the heir to Kurosawa; Hana-bi proved he is the modern visionary of Japanese cinema.

It’s the story of Yoshitaka Nishi (Beat Kitano), a one time violent cop, taking his terminally ill wife Miyuki (Kayoko Kishimoto) on the road trip she’d always wanted, pursued by murderous yakuza. Grand bloodbaths a la Sonatine and Violent Cop are fired with the humanism, compassion, and humour best seen in Kikujiro and A Scene at the Sea. The cinematography is sublime, especially the images of the sea and the sky and blood on the snow. Kitano’s editing is sharp, his writing and direction distinctive and dexterous. His use of the absence of sound and minimalist dialogue is so refreshing. There are intense bursts of ultra-violence and moments of towering elegiac serenity amongst the madness. As in Scorsese’s best work, Hana-bi’s violence has a certain beauty. And, a similar visceral energy... fireworks.

Alexander Bisley is The Lumière Reader’s Associate Editor and a critic for a variety of publications.