(1997)4.5Jonathan CrowHana-Bi, which won the coveted Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, established Takeshi Kitano, better known in Japan as a television comedian, as one of that country's most highly regarded directors. Directed with remarkable assurance, this sensitive tale fuses wistful melancholy, jarring violence, and deadpan wit; its first 30 minutes consist of a brilliantly arranged collection of flash-forwards and flashbacks, which ultimately cohere into a tale about a cop's slide into criminality in a desperate attempt to help his dying wife and make amends to his crippled former partner. Though Kitano's comic timing is perfect in numerous comic vignettes, a wintry chill of death pervades this film: Nishi's wife has terminal cancer, their child recently died, his police buddies were killed by a crazed gunman, and Nishi has had a price put on his head by a yazuka loan shark seeking payment. As if Kitano were answering the two-fisted bloodletting of Quentin Tarantino, the film focuses more on the numbed quiet of men so habituated to violence that they cannot image an alternative. As Nishi, Kitano delivers a powerful, though almost wordless, performance, while Kayoko Kishimoto is excellent as Nishi's wife, Miyuki. Rarely has married love been so finely portrayed as in this film. A mature work in both style and content, Hana-Bi is widely considered one of the masterpieces of 1990s world cinema.