What About It?
(for a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")
In the world of Sonatine, the gangster has picked up a lot from the samurai in films before him. The gangsters here all understand and live by a rigid code. Much of your fate can be determined by your place in the pecking order. When one bottom rung thug stabs another for insulting him the higher ups don't bother getting up, as it would be beneath them. And, when the Boss asks anyone underneath him, even those a little higher on the ladder, to do something, it's really not a request.
Murakawa is a boss on his own turf, and a successful one, but he's well aware that his command of his own turf is not stable, as his prosperity is like a flag for his Boss's greed. He knows this is what's happening and insinuates as much, but according to their code, he must play along and behave as if his Boss was an honorable man. Murakawa certainly tests the letter of the law. While his Boss is off limits, Takahashi the Boss's right hand man is certainly fair game for a beating in the rest room. Murakawa can't seem to help himself. He knows what's happening and he'll follow the rules, but he isn't going to act as if he doesn't know. Of course this is likely another reason the Boss would rather have him out of the way. Even the Boss maintains a code, he must betray his employees in a certain way to maintain his own appearance. He doesn't just come into Murakawa's turf and claim it, he constructs an elaborate reason to get him away from his turf, and then engineers his destruction as a hazard of the business, all as a consequence of another betrayal on the way to an alliance he desired. Ultimately there is no loyalty, only the effort to appear loyal.
Violence means nothing to men in this organization. They severely wound each other and then have dinner together. It's never personal, simply a matter of maintaining your status. If a man calls you green and you stab him in the belly, you've made your point. Aside from that it doesn't warrant even a raised eye brow. Everything comes down to respect and defending your turf. We see that Murakawa is as serious about that as anyone, when he decides to make an example of the Mah-Jong parlor owner. He shows up and asks the man to give up a cut, but just as it is with his own boss, he is not really making a request, which the man realizes a bit too late. We're not even sure if Murakawa meant to kill the man, or if he just lost track of time while having a conversation, and to him, it doesn't really make any difference, it's just a body for his men to dispose of.
Violence and killing are second nature to Murakawa. Any emotions he had about it, would seem to have eroded long ago. Yet, he has given the matter a lot of thought. He reveals a lot when he tells Miyumi "I wouldn't carry a gun if I was tough." She still tries to compliment him, saying he's fast with the gun, but he isn't having it, and tells her "I'm fast because I get scared first." Watching Marukawa in action, you wouldn't guess that he's scared of much, he so rarely changes expression. He faces certain death with the same expression that he orders a meal. He isn't talking about jitters, but something deeper than that. He knows that people are plotting against him. He's lost men in service of the Boss before. As Takahashi reminds him, that's how he got his turf. Dying and losing everything are all part of the risk in his line of work. He doesn't like it but it's all he knows. He feels the pressure, although he doesn't show it. He confides to Ken that he's tired, although at that point in the film he's doing as well as anyone could hope. He's tired from the weight of everything he's done. So much so that none of his actions matter anymore.
When they get to the beach, and the writing is clearly on the wall, we see a change in Murakawa. All the time to kill on the beach, makes him along with his crew turn childlike. But even so, the guns are always present. Murakawa can't play rock, paper, scissors without adding Russian Roulette. Although it turns out the gun wasn't loaded, Ken and Ryoji don't know that. Yet the gangster code prevents Ken from backing down when he loses the rock, paper, scissors. To these gangsters, how tough they appear, is as important as how tough they are, it's a legitimate concern to risk your life over. Even with the violence tainting him, Murakawa seems to thoroughly enjoy the childishness, being particularly amused by his sand traps. Murakawa and his men at least have a kind of camraderie. Unlike his Boss, he doesn't seem threatened when his people speak their minds, although he wouldn't likely tolerate a challenge. Murakawa has given himself entirely to the distraction. He lets Katagiri worry about calling Tokyo, while he plays games on the beach and hangs out with Miyumi. As much as he tries though, he isn't completely oblivious as we get from his dream where the Russian Roulette game has a fatal outcome. Of course the escape can't last indefinitely, Murakawa's Boss won't feel secure while Murakawa is alive. Ken's killing is the end of the retreat. He was as close to a family member as Murakawa had. Katagiri assumes rightly that Takahashi is finished after that.
Once he's resolved to correct things, he proceeds without hesitation. Everyone is killed all around him but Murakawa is never touched no matter how impossible the odds. As Miyuki surmises, he is not afraid of dying. As he tells her, "When you're scared all the time you almost wish you were dead." We see that when he walks calmly into a building full of armed thugs to kill his Boss, and leaves the building unfazed. Murakawa is inviting death but he can't find it. At the end we see that he has a choice, Miyuki waiting just a little ways down the road or the gun to his head. But death is more attractive to him than any woman, and after being forced to admit that no one else will kill him, he takes on the job himself. He truly is "all worn out." All he has left is the fear that follows him and he has no idea what to do with any other kind of life. Everything is gone and he just wants to be done.
Takeshi Kitano has constructed a fantastic film. His cuts move people across the room in an instant at times giving an interesting pacing that makes you feel like it moves quickly even though we haven't left the room. His treatment of violence in the film is also interesting as it's more implied than shown. A man dies while underwater, we don't see him struggling, just the crane hook sticking in the water. The final showdown where many people are killed is primarily made up of flashes of light. We do see people get shot and fall down but we don't linger there any more than Murakawa does. It happens and we move on to the next time. The deaths are presented as uninteresting, with the exception of Ken's death, which does have an effect, although even that is not obvious immediately. We get plenty of action but not lazy action and the absence of shock effects give it more weight. We're also given quite a contrast between Murakawa's regular stylish gangster living and the period of beach living with ludicrous shirts and all. These are all memorable characters, even some of the minor ones. He made a good choice playing the lead himself and he portrays the gangster longing for destruction perfectly. We don't know if he'll be frightening, childish, calculating, or spontaneous. His absurd sense of humor also fits him well.
Susumu Terajimi is terrific as Ken. He's a great complement to Murakawa and like him, he's deathly serious when we first meet him, although we gradually find there's more to him than hired muscle. His lighthearted camraderie with Ryoji is one of the highlights of the film and is very probably a big inspiration for Murakawa to enjoy himself in their isolation. It can't last and it's not enough to erase the weight of a lifetime, but it's still a pleasure to see it while it lasts. Ren Ohsugi's Katajiri is also great. He's the motivator and the guy that makes sure business gets done. He's cool under pressure unless but also sensitive to jokes about his shirt or sand traps. Tetsu Watanabe's Ueji is a likeable local companion and he adds a needed maturity to the group while encouraging the fun as well. He proves loyal to the end. Ken'ichi Yajima's Takahashi is perfect as the most contemptible of characters. He scrambles for power by having no backbone of his own and lives on his sense of self importance that comes from being close to the Boss.
And lastly, Aya Kokumai is wonderful as Miyuki, a character who seems slight at first but becomes very important, by adding substance to the antics at the beach. She clearly has her own problems, finding the ability to kill admirable because it means you could kill yourself. Miyuki is also someone who doesn't know Murakawa and as a result he can talk to her about things he would never feel the need to discuss with his own people. He enjoys her presence and becomes lighter around her. He isn't, however so easily susceptible to a love interest as it doesn't fit within his code, even if he could feel it. She's a possibility, but Murakawa is not really interested in possibilities. So she ends up being a hint at what his life could have been if only he was someone else. He hates to be ruled but he doesn't know why as he doesn't want to be the boss. He's had his mind made up for some time. He's done with is existential dilemma, Ken's death being the accelerant to the event that he was headed for. But the gangster code is a tough one to break, and like every gangster he'd rather go out on top, because to these guys dying is no big deal, but looking tough on the way is more important than life or death. What else does he have?
The film opens on a man in overalls working in a backroom Mah-Jong establishment. His job is interrupted by the entrance of two men in suits, Aniki Murakawa (Takeshi "Beat" Kitano) and Ken (Susumu Terajimi) Murakawa tells the backroom boss that it's ok for him to operate, but he needs to give a cut of his profits. He declares that he isn't Yakuza, and won't pay.
Murakawa: But you're acting like yakuza
Boss: So, let the police arrest me. but, I don't have to listen to your bullshit.
Murakawa: You're dead, asshole!
Boss: Don't say such stupid things!
Murakawa: You are the stupid thing.
Murakawa and his Ken leave the backroom and head to Murakawa's office. He directs Ken towards a young guy they notice waiting tables and hitting on a female customer while he goes in the office. His Lieutenant, Katagiri (Ren Ohsugi) tells him that Boss Kitajima called while he was out and asks about the Mah-Jong parlor. Murakawa answers, "Let's scare him." Katagiri takes a call and Ken enters the office escorting the teenager inside. Ken tells two of the men in the office to go to the Mah-Jong parlor and wait for him there. Murakawa asks the teenager why he's there when he was due to go out of town. The teenager tells him that the cafe needed a waiter so he postponed his trip. Murakawa tells him "So, act like a waiter then." and threatens him not to try and screw him. The boy leaves and Katagiri takes a call threatening the caller, reminding him that they are loan sharks with a reputation to maintain.
Murakawa and Ken take a drive, and he tells Ken that he wants to retire. Ken answers "We've been living the tough life too long." Murakawa says "Yeah, I'm worn out." They arrive at Boss Kitajima's (Tonbo Zushi) Kitajimi sees them arrive and remarks to his underling Takahashi, (Ken'ichi Yajima) that Murakawa's turf is booming with business due to a new subway line while business in his own territory is lousy. His underling tells him "This might change our luck." When Murakawa and Ken enter, Takahashi tells them that the Nakamatsu clan started a war with the Anan, and the Anan's have begged for help. He asks Murakawa if he can take some men there to help out. Murakawa answers "The last time we were sent out, three of my men got killed. I'm not happy about that." Takahashi answers "That's how you earned your turf. Business is booming isn't it? Show the boss some appreciation." Murakawa says "Only if you come with me, Takahashi."
Takahashi: You know my job. I've gotta take care of the boss, the syndicate operation. I can't deal with a local issue.
Murakawa: How about my turf?
Takahashi: You have a good lieutenant.
Kitajimi breaks in and asks Murakawa to think about it, adding "It's to restore peace. There should be no bloodshed."
We see the men that Ken sent to the Mah-Jong parlor forcibly escorting the owner outside and into their car. Murakawa and Ken go to dinner with Boss Kitajima and many others in the organization. They watch him eat until he gives them permission to smoke. He tells them all "Nakamatsu might be my sworn brother, but he's never done anything for me. He's merely a distant relative to the family. Unlike you guys. You're my immediate family." Takahashi says "We've sworn our allegiance and put our lives into your hands, Boss." Murakawa speaks up, 'You're putting my life into his hands." Nobody answers this remark, and Murakawa is told there's a call waiting for him. He excuses himself. Just before leaving, Murakawa gets Takahashi alone in the bathroom and beats him, leaving him on the floor.
Murakawa and Ken meet up with the men who have the Mah-Jong owner. He discovers they have him tied up and dangling from a crane. Murakawa laughs and says "We're bad, ain't we?" The man pleads with Murakawa to talk, asking how much money he wants. Murakawa ignores him and asks one of his men how long he thinks the man can stay underwater. Hi man guesses a couple minutes. Murakawa suggests they try two minutes and they have the crane drop him into the water below. The Mah-Jong owner pleads the whole time, but uselessly. They pull him up to check on him. He continues to plead. Murakawa says "Try three minutes." While the man is underwater, Katagiri tells him "There's something fishy about the Okinawa job." Murakawa says "The old man says both sides are waiting for us to negotiate. His man replies "The situation is sticky in Okinawa. We lost three men in the Hokkaido job." They look at the crane hook and Murakawa says "It's been over three minutes already, hasn't it?" His man confirms this and has the hoist pulled up, with the owner not moving. Murakawa says "Boy, we killed him. It doesn't matter. Cover it up." He and Ken leave the crew to take care of it.
Murakawa (with Ken and Katagiri) meets with Boss Kitajima and Takahashi again. He's introduced to the crew that Takahashi has put together for him, Sakai, Okumura, Hirose and Ito. Murakama claims Takahashi would be glad to see him dead. Takahashi says "Sure, I'd feel safe pissing again." making Murakawa laugh. Several of Murakawa's men enter the room; Maeda, Ono, Tsuda (the kid Murakawa scolded for waiting tables.) One of Takahashi's men, Hirose, remarks that they look "green" and approaches the group aggressively. Maeda pulls out a switchblade and stabs Hirose in the gut, the two crews start fighting while the bosses look on and wait for them to finish.
We next find Murakawa and his crew in Okinawa where they're greeted by a local man, Uechi (Tetsu Watanabe) with a bus, who is to take them to their office. They're offered ice cream and drinks by Uechi's helper Ryoji (Masonobu Katsumura.) Uechi tells them to rest and the boss will take them to dinner later. Hirose and Maeda sit next to each other. Maeda asks Hirose if he'd like ice cream. Hirose says "You stabbed me in the belly and it still hurts." He nods and they continue on their way.
When they get to the office, Murakawa remarks "I'm in Wonderland." Uechi tells him "It's not clean, but you won't be staying long, so I guess it's Ok." He has some guns brought in for them and something comes through one of the windows, breaking it. "What does this mean?" Murakawa asks. Uechi tells him "Simply hello, and nothing more. Could mean the end of the war."
We then see Uechi, speaking with one of the entry level crew, who asks "What'll we do now?" Uechi tells him "The Boss talked to the Anan clan a little while ago. Some of them get excited, seeing you guys coming." Uechi scolds the others to get to work. In another room, Murakawa and Katagiri decide to say hello, while Ken goes out for a drive with one of Ryoji and watches as he runs into a building dropping something and runs back out. Ken waits and sees nothing happen. Ryoji tells him "Made in the U.S., can't trust it."
Later Marakawa and Katagiri meet with the Nakamatsu Boss, who explains the war, "It all started off with a goofball from my side shooting an Anan guy but it's nothing. Nobody got killed and I didn't need any help. Your old man insisted on sending some troops. Well, I appreciate your coming all this way." Katagiri says "We thought you were desperate." The Boss says "It's new to me. Like I said, your old man insisted." The whole crew goes out for dinner. Afterwards, Ken and Ryoji sit outside. Ryoji asks Ken about Tokyo but gets little response. He also offers Ken a joint but he declines, saying "It's not my thing."
The next day, they're surprised when a bomb blows up in the office, killing one of the crew and one of Uechi's men. Ken and Ryoji look the place over. They decide to split into groups and allow anyone who wants to return to Tokyo, saying "It's total war now."
Murakawa goes out for a drink later with Uechi and some of his own men. The bartender calls for some girls to keep the men company. Ken and Ryoji are out in the car keeping watch in front of the bar. Ryoji asks him if he knows a friend of his who barricaded himself in a bank. Ken doesn't know the guy. Ryoji asks him about another criminal. Ken again doeasn't know and asks "Don't you have any decent friends? Somebody famous in high school baseball or something." Inside the bar, a group of men in a booth start shooting at Murakawa's group, killing two more of his crew. Murakawa, Katagiri, and Uechi shoot back killing the group while people in another booth look on. They take a ride to dispose of the bodies by the ocean.
The next day they all head to a Uechi's brother's place on the beach to hang low. Katagiri and Uechi drop off Murakawa, Ken and Ryoji. Katagiri says he'll call Tokyo from the store. Meanwhile Ken and Ryoji walk the beach. Ryoji is impressed when Ken shoots a can off of his head without hurting him. Ken puts the can on his head, but Ryoji misses altogether. Murakawa approaches them and asks for the gun. He drops all the bullets out of it and puts one back in. He fires three shots finding empty chambers and says "Let's play." Ryoji asks "Play what, sir." He says "Rock, paper, scissors.[looks at Ken] You too." Ken agrees. Ken gets elected to go first and Murakawa fires the gun at him, finding another empty chamber. They play rock, paper, scissors again and Ken loses a second time. Murakawa fires and gets another empty chamber. He urges them to play another one. Ryoji says "But, it's the last chamber." Murakawa just says "Right." They play again and Murakawa loses. He puts the gun up to his head although Ken tells him not to do it. He fires and gets another empty chamber. Ryoji and Ken are astonished, but Murakawa just laughs and walks off. Ryoji inspects the gun and says "It was empty. He's a fake." prompting Ken to tell him to shut up.
That night, Murakawa has a dream of the Russian Roulette game at the beach, only it ends differently, shooting himself in the head. He gets up and walks the beach, interrupting a guy trying to rape a girl. The man notices him and calls him a pervert, getting belligerent when Murakawa ignores him. Murakawa headbutts him, knocking him over. The man then gets up and pulls a knife, telling Murakawa, "You're dead." Murakawa shoots him, and we see the woman watching as the man falls saying "This is a bad joke." He brings the woman, Miyuki (Aya Kokumai) back to their place. Ryoji and Ken dump the man's body and decide they'll use his car. In the morning the woman leaves on foot.
Uechi has a visitor who brings him some clothes. He asks about the Boss and is informed that he's still talking about the truce. He asks him to bring a message back to the bar for him.When he leaves they look through the clothes and amuse themselves playing games. Murakawa makes fun of Katagiri's Hawaiian shirt. Miyuki returns to the beach and they get a laugh watching Ken, Ryoji and Uecji exercise. They all decide to join in.Afterwards Miyuki asks if she can visit again. Murakawa tells her "You can, but you won't, bitch." Murakawa drives her home, and asks "Why do I have to drive you home? I'm an awful driver." She tells him that he's driving her husband's car."
Murakawa: Do I have to know?
Miyuki: When was your first kill?
Murakawa: In high school.
Miyuki: Who was it?
Murakawa: My dad.
Murakawa: He wouldn't let me fuck.
They both laugh.
We see the whole group at the beach, including the girl. The get into the car they arrived there in and we see them drive to the girl's husband's car which is pulled off the road. Ken asks "How can you miss this wide road?" Murakawa explains that a snake was crossing.Ryoji asks if he has a driver's license and Murakawa claims Miyuki was driving. She laughs and denies it. Ken and Ryoji help push it back on the road and Murakawa starts driving her home again.
That night Murakawa stands on the beach. He sees Uechi coming and tells him to watch out for holes and to be quiet as the others are coming. They watch as Ken, Ryoji and Katagiri come towards them. Murakawa tells them to hurry. He and Uechi laugh when Ken and Ryoji walk right into a hole Murakawa had covered over. Katagiri approaches and asks Murakawa if he isn't being too childish. "He answers "What else can I do? He laughs and tells him that his shirt looks terrible." He reassures Katagiri, saying "No more traps." Katagiri asks "You sure?" just before he falls in another hole and Murakawa starts laughing.
The next day Katagiri asks Ken where the boss is. Ken tells him "Fishing with the broad." Katigiri says "She's here again." and Ken says "I guess she's in love." Ken mentions Katgiri's shirt, noting that he isn't wearing the bright Hawaiian shirt, but a grey one. Katagiri gets mad and yells "None of your business, asshole!"
Miyuki and Murakawa are out fishing. She tells him "It's great not to be afraid of shooting people. Not afraid of killing people means not being afraid of killing yourself, right?" He laughs. She says "You're tough. I love tough guys." Murakawa tells her "I wouldn't carry a gun if I were tough."
Miyuki: But you can shoot fast.
Murakawa: I shoot fast because I get scared first.
Miyuki: But you are not afraid of dying.
Murakawa: When you're scared all the time you almost wish you were dead.
Miyuki: I don't get it. [He laughs, and she does too]
Inside the cabin, Uechi asks Katagiri about his plans. He tells him there's no word from Tokyo, so he thinks they'll go home in a few days. Ryoshi bothers Ken while he's trying to read. A storm comes through, so Miyuki and Marakawa stop fishing. She pulls him into the woods and takes her top off. He smiles and says "Indecent exposure s fun!" Uechi trains Ken and Ryoji to do a dance, which they perform that night for Katagiri and Murakawa. Katagiri makes another call from the market and gets angry that the boss is out again. He leaves and we see another man approaching the beach. That night they have a battle on the beach with Roman candles. Murakawa fires his gun also although no one is hurt.
The next day Ueji asks Katagiri to find Murakawa as his boss wants to see him right away. They meet the Boss who tells them that Takahashi came to visit to finalize the truce. A condition of it was that his family would have to disband, so he told them "to fuck off." He tells Ueji that he's thinking of retiring though and would like him to take over his turf. He leaves it to Ueji to decide whether to disband or resist. Katagiri asks if Takahashi mentioned them. He says " The Murakawa clan will be banished." Once Murakawa's group leaves, the Boss and his men are shot by the man who was on the beach earlier, obviously a hitman (Eiji Minakata) We watch him walking towards the beach carrying a cooler and his rifle.
Murakawa and his group, including Miyumi are on the beach throwing a Frisbee and trying to shoot it with their guns. Ken decides to try and hit it with a stick when Ryoji throws it at him. Chasing after it, Ken finds himself facing the hitman who has his gun pointed right at him. Ryoji runs but Ken just looks at him until the hitman kills him with a bullet through his forehead. Murakawa and Myumi are right behind Ken and he falls at their feet. The Hitman looks at them and walks away. Later, we see Murakawa throwing the Frisbee by himself while Katagiri, Miyumi, Ryoji and Ueji watch from a distance. Katagiri says "It's over for Takahashi. He's willing to go all the way."
Murakawa, Katagir and Ueji leave the beach and we see them enter a hotel. They knock on one of the rooms looking for Takahashi and a stranger answers saying he's Takahashi. They leave and reason that Takahashi wouldn't register in his own name. They get in the elevator and their Takahashi and one of his thugs get in the same elevator, although he doesn't realize Murakawa is there. Murakawa says "Takahashi" which makes him look at him. Takahashi's man shoots Katagiri and Ueji before Murakawa shoots him dead. He then stares at Takahashi and walks him out of the elevator and drives him to the beach where Ryoji is still hanging out. Murakawa starts shooting Takahashi in the legs. He swears he doesn't know anything. He finally says "Our boss always wanted Anan to become our partner. He had to get rid of Nakamatsu. The squabble was a perfect excuse for him to eliminate Nakamatsu."
Murakawa: Then why expel me?
Takahashi: Your turf is doing great business. He's greedy. Listen Murakawa, the boss is coming today to see Anan. You can take over Nakamatsu's turf. I can arrange it.
Murakawa laughs and shoots him again. He then hands the gun to Ryoji and says "Your turn." Ryoji opens the trunk and pulls an explosive from his bag. He throws it in with Takahashi and closes the door. In a few seconds it blows up. Murakawa says "The car's gone. We gotta walk all the way." Ryoji apologizes and they start walking.
Ryoji sneaks into a building and looks at the power, while Murakawa meets up with Miyumi, who asks if he's coming back. He says "Maybe." and lets her fire his assault rifle. Murakawa meets Ryoji at the building in Myumi's car. They sit in the car watching. Ryoji asks "Take me with you." but Murakawa refuses saying "You had enough, didn't you?" He answers :Yeah." They watch a car pull up with the Boss who has many men to escort him inside. Miyumi fires a Roman candle on the beach and falls into one of Murakawa's holes. Ryoji leaves the car and asks Murakawa to fill it up on the way back. All the lights go out in the meeting building and Murakawa walks in with his gun. We see flashes of light outside and glimpse everyone firing inside and falling down as Murakawa shoots them. We see Miyumi's car on the road. We then see Miyumi waiting on the side of the road as vehicles pass by. A truck that passes her, soon passes her car as well, with Murakawa in it, parked on the side of the road. He puts his gun up to his head and fires, killing himself. We see Miyumi still waiting further down the road and the screen goes black.