Kitano, thankfully, displays the occasional flash of showmanship, and he certainly establishes a unique tone, but troublesome things like plot and pacing don't seem to be to his liking.
What are people saying?
What are critics saying?
Like the character he plays, Kitano directs the film in a style that alternates between tenderness and brutality, making it a relentlessly tense suspense film one minute and a gentle character study the next. Either half would make Sonatine worth seeing. But taken together as the story of a man who regains his soul but whose face remains permeated with the knowledge of its inevitable loss, it becomes an artful gangster film, Yakuza poetry, and essential viewing.
Sonatine eliminates the one virtue American action films can legitimately claim -- vitality -- and replaces it with fake- existential claptrap wrapped in an inept narrative.
It shows how violent gangster movies need not be filled with stupid dialogue, nonstop action and gratuitous gore. Sonatine is pure, minimal and clean in its lines.
If you feel hostile toward art that not only confuses you but then also suggests that your confusion is precisely the point, you'll probably want to pass on Sonatine. But if disciplined, minimalist storytelling, formal innovation, and contemplation of mystery for its own sake appeals to you, a real feast awaits you in the films of Takeshi Kitano.
Sonatine, made in 1994, predates the Japanese director's art-house hit Fireworks by three years and is arguably stronger than its successor.