This year’s Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme is called ‘It Only Happens in the Movies?’ and it explores the theme of ‘encounters’. The films in the programme “include titles in which characters experience seemingly unusual meetings, plunge into unexpected circumstances and new environments, as well as collide with different generations, ideals and ideas – asking the question, does it really only happen in the movies?“.
Blood & Bones is a Japanese film directed by Yoichi Sai (崔 洋一) and starring Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano (北野 武). It is based on the semi-autobiographical novel Chi to Hone by Zainichi Korean author Yan Sogiru (Yang Seok-il). (For those of you who don’t know the word, and I didn’t until today, ‘Zainichi’ (在日) is the word for Korean residents in Japan.)
I’m finding it hard to sum up the film in my own words, so here’s the summary from the Watershed website:
Legendary Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano stars in this unflinching portrait of a man struggling to make a name for himself and raises difficult questions about Korean-Japanese identity. When Kim Shun-Pei (Kitano) emigrates from Jeju Island in Korea to Osaka in 1923, he is a young man. The intervening years have taken their toll as a lifelong fear of poverty meshes with his compulsive womanising and a capacity for violence to make him into the monster that he has now become. Charting his journey from a fish-cake business to heading up a small criminal empire as a loan shark, the web of turmoil surrounding Kim increases as those around him attempt to deal with his choices and increasingly violent nature. Is Kim a Darwinian product of his environment? Or a psychopath who’s able to flourish and exploit his surroundings?
And here’s a trailer (sorry, I couldn’t find one with English subtitles):
What can I say? This was not an easy film to watch. I don’t know much about the period in which this film was set, or about the way on which Koreans were treated in Japan, so at times I probably didn’t get everything the film was trying to convey. I felt exhausted and drained after the film, but that’s not to say it wasn’t an excellent film. It was. It was beautifully filmed, gripping, horrendous in places and bizarrely light-hearted in others. I couldn’t say I ‘enjoyed’ the film, but I’m glad I watched it.
The film shows the life of Kim Shun-Pei (Kitano), who starts out as a fresh-faced young man on a crowded boat from Korea to Osaka and turns into a really horrible, wretched man. What is not clear is quite how he gets to be such a terrible person, but I suppose it is implied that he ends up this way due to the way he is treated as a Korean in Japan in the 1920s.
The Koreans in the film live apart from the Japanese in an area of their own, and it’s an area which doesn’t seem to change at all despite the decades that pass during the film. Although the film itself was pretty epic and covered a long period of the main character’s life, a lot of the scenes were shot in this one area, giving the film a sort of narrow perspective. This perspective helped me to imagine what life must have been like there, and gave the film a real focus. The old streets in this area where most of the action takes place were filmed quite beautifully. Although nothing much changes, the progression of time is shown with small things like the introduction of a car and scooter, and a plane flying over head.
Blood & Bones is a horrendously violent film, featuring murder, suicide, rape and domestic violence. It’s very hard to watch in places, and there is absolutely nothing likeable about Kitano’s character. Kitano’s portrayal of this brutal man is incredible. I’ve not seen many of his films, but from this film alone I can say he is an outstanding actor.
If the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme is passing through your town and you have the chance to see Blood & Bones, do go. I don’t normally watch this kind of film at all, but I found it deeply fascinating and would recommend it.
For more information about the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme please visit: www.jpf-film.org.uk