One of world cinema's most consistently interesting directors, Takeshi Kitano has the uncanny knack of being able to repeat himself without becoming tiresome. The lean and absorbing Sonatine, the filmmaker's fourth feature, bears all the trappings of a typical Kitano gangster flick: an impassive antihero, slapstick comedy, stylish mayhem, and an undercurrent of sadness. Less sentimental than 1998's policier-cum-weepie Fireworks (his most successful movie), Sonatine is nonetheless a strange hybrid, wedging the aimless story of a beach idyll into a straightforward genre picture. With his weathered face and unimposing slouch, Kitano is an unlikely candidate to play a cool antihero. But as with most of his movies, tight-lipped stoicism and coiled viciousness go a long way. Formally, the picture is as strong as anything Kitano has done. The stark and static compositions have cumulative power, creating a meditative mood that's almost alien to the genre. For all its deviations from the generic norm, the movie doesn't really tell us anything new; it's the telling that makes the movie worth watching. Familiar by Kitano's standards, Sonatine never fails to surprise anyway, a testament to the peculiarity of his vision.