Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Gangster Beat

With the presentation of the coveted Palme d’Or just a few days a way, the focus of the cinematic world turns to the legendary Cannes Film Festival. The event is a showcase for established actors and directors, and a proving ground for the next generation.

A man who’s proven himself time and time again is Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, star and director of numerous Japanese hits over the past several decades. Noted for his trademark black sunglasses, Beat established his early name in yakuza-themed films. His Cannes entry, Outrage, is his first yakuza vehicle since Brother in 2000.

I share two interesting notes about Brother, which starred Beat as a tough gangster who took over the Los Angeles crime scene after being expelled from his gang family in Japan. Point one is that a young Omar Epps, currently known as Dr. Foreman on House (a show I adore), played a supporting role of a friend of Beat’s American half-brother. In a classic Kitano scene, Beat stabs Epps in the eye with a broken liquor bottle. (Violently shoving chopsticks into eyes and noses is another Beat method of torture.)

More relevant to our discussion, however, is that I drew on several elements from Brother as inspiration for Tokyo Lives. A prominent instance is Chapter 4, in which the gang convenes a formal ceremony to hear an address from the Governor. I borrowed quite liberally the ritual of the monk blessing the fish. Later in the meeting, Shark Tooth stabs himself as a show of toughness after being challenged by Ice. This is also pulled from a later scene in Brother. Below you’ll find passages from Tokyo Lives, and the corresponding clip from Brother.

The men file into an elegant conference room and sit cross-legged on the tatami floor. A black-robed monk arrives and kneels at the head of the assembly. Before him lies a pure white plate with ceremonial chopsticks resting horizontally. Clutching the chopsticks with both hands, the monk stabs at the air several times to bless the room, then waves the chopsticks over a stuffed fish to christen the meal. A recited prayer ensues, after which the seated men bow in unison.

A commotion among the gangsters interrupts the repartee as The Snake and the hostess turn to see Ice and Shark Tooth standing toe-to-toe locked in argument. “You’ve never been reliable,” Ice challenges.
“I’ve been through the wars!” Shark Tooth retaliates.
“With such a pretty face and no scars?” Ice begins to caress Shark Tooth’s face before Shark Tooth slaps away his hand.
“Do you challenge my loyalty?”
“You would have to have loyalty for me to challenge it,” Ice chides.
Shark Tooth steps toward Ice but fellow gangsters restrain him. “I bleed for our family!”
“But you’ve never shed blood.”
“Bring me a knife,” Shark Tooth turns and shouts at a junior gangster. “Now!”
A fresh-faced recruit scampers off and returns with the sushi paring blade.
Shark Took throws his jacket to the floor and rips open his dress shirt. He seizes the knife and stabs his stomach, tearing through his abs. He remains silent until the pain overtakes him and emits gurgles of agony; blood streams onto the tatami. Staring Ice in the eyes, Shark Tooth clings to his adversary to support himself. Ice pushes him away and Shark Tooth crumples to the floor. Ice takes a step backward and orders, “Get me a towel.” He peels the blood-stained shirt from his body and throws it on the floor.

(Jump to about the 2:35 mark for the stabbing scene)

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