The Beach

Takeshi Kitano's Sonatine is so-called because it was to present only a sketch of a film, only a beginner’s lesson in filmmaking. Kitano thought of himself as an apprentice, but it is as though, in his film, he had seen everything and knew everything and what he saw through his camera was only a segment of everything he had seen.

Sonatine's style: wide, long shots of motionless, emotionless characters and then short, quick ones in confined spaces: gun battles, sudden and horrifying. Characters filmed flatly: faces seen from the front or in sharp profile or from the back. No clues as to what they are thinking. Few close ups. Neutral music. No facial expressions. His characters have seen it before: victims and perpetrators are weary. Dying, killing, it is all the same; the roundplay will continue.

Kitano plays Sonatine’s yakuza boss Murakawa. He is a man who has not died once but a thousand times. He is a man who missed his appointment with death; what remains is the beach, the sand, that place where the waiting game can be played out. He is waiting for death to keep its appointment.

The beach is a hide out, a place where Murakawa and his henchmen come after taking bloody revenge. Some, battle-scarred, are waiting for the showdown. Others, younger, are only playing at being yakuza. An interval: a fun and carefree time. The gangsters become pranksters. A young woman joins them when Murakawa kills her rapist.

Days float by. Murakawa says to the young woman: ‘When you are afraid all the time, you almost wish you were dead’. Days pass. Idle hours of conversation and horse-play. Sumo games, Frisbee, target practice ... this is the interval before death. Before the real business of life, which is to say, death. Death dealt out or death received. Soon, the other gang will come. Meanwhile: the beach, the flat expanse of land and sea.

The gangsters come. Gun battle. Murakawa survives; death has not come. Then he must give death to himself. Earlier he said: ‘When you are afraid all the time, you almost wish you were dead’, but it is not fear that makes him take his own life. It is sense that death is everywhere. That everything is a pause between now and death, but that death is everywhere, waiting. That death is there in the sand, the sea, the sky.

The yakuza are numberless. More will come, Murakawa will have to kill them, or they will kill him. If he survives, still more will come. Then more still, from now until the end of time. This is why he laughs as he brings the gun to his head. Has he defeated death, the multiplication of death?

A smiling Murakawa brings the gun to his head. Pulls the trigger. Now an empty shot. View of the beach. Which joins the other empty, trailing shots of the film. The silence before and after action. And now we know: the beach is what remains before and after death. It is that expanse upon life and death are played. It is what saw itself when Murakawa saw it. The beach knew itself in him. The beach opened its eyes in his eyes. The beach raised the gun to his temple.

And Takeshi Kitano? his suicidal despair in this period is well recorded. His deliberate attempt to wreck his career. His motocycle crash. His drinking. He dies in his characters. But he survives as the beach survives, witness to all. He survives in the film as it watches itself being watched. The film is what knows itself in us as we watch it.