classic film

Five-star cinema: Takeshi Kitano’s ‘Hana-bi’

This gorgeous mix of manners and mayhem is one of the best creations of the idiosyncratic Japanese director.

Hana-bi is Japanese for “Fireworks”, but might we suggest “Zen and blood-letting” instead?

Violence punctuates Takeshi Kitano’s essay on life and death like exclamation marks. In between sudden bursts of gunfire, punching, kicking and head-butting, two police officers contemplate their fate. One has been partially paralysed during a shootout and now creates vivid paintings by the seaside. The other becomes a criminal to give his terminally ill wife the holiday of her dreams.


The Japanese multi-hyphenate talent’s 1997 movie is set in the same world of ultraviolent yakuza and remorseless police officers from which his previous films emerged. In his simply titled debut Violent Cop (1989), Kitano plays a police officer who loses his balance after his sister is kidnapped by a yakuza clan. In Boiling Point (1990), two gormless petrol pump attendants get involved with Kitano’s deranged yakuza in their quest for revenge. Sonatine (1993) sees Kitano’s yakuza enforcer being sent by his boss on a suicide mission to bring peace between two warring gangs.

‘Takeshi Kitano Death Reel’ by Supernitpicker.

Sonatine contains the shot-taking rhythms and editing patterns that became distinctive in future productions. In this early Kitano gem, politeness and psychosis are sides of the same coin. The excessively formal yakuza resemble corporate executives and government bureaucrats in their love for suits and obsession with hierarchy and rituals, but they eagerly welcome the opportunity to lose their tempers. In a hilarious, and typical, juxtaposition of cruel comedy and wince-inducing savagery, Kitano’s loose cannon gangster attacks the bookish lieutenant who has ordered the reconciliation mission in a restaurant toilet as an attendant waits patiently outside with a hand towel.


The mix of manners and mayhem is beautifully rendered in Hana-bi. The lengthy takes, laconic characters with unforgettable faces, meditative silences, bursts of brutality, unexpected tenderness, editing tricks that show the aftermath of violence before the actual act, deadpan comedy, and a love for art are all packed into Hana-bi’s 103 minutes. Apart from being a comedian in Japan (he performs under the stage name Beat Takeshi), and a writer, editor, and filmmaker, Kitano is also a painter. The pointillist works by the wheelchair-bound Horibe in Hana-bi are actually by Kitano.

The movie maps physical and spiritual journeys. Horibe (Ren Osugi, a regular face in Kitano’s films) tries to kill himself before seeking comfort and meaning in painting. Kitano’s Nishi, who is escaping a bad loan to a yakuza gang, decamps with his wife Miyuki (Kayoko Kishimoto) after a bank robbery.

Kayoko Kishimoto and Takeshi Kitano.
Kayoko Kishimoto and Takeshi Kitano.

Sections of Hana-Bi, which has been movingly scored by Joe Hisaishi, play out like a silent movie. Hideo Yamamoto’s camera watches from a respectable distance as Nishi and Miyuki contemplate their fate. Miyuki wordlessly conveys her pain and suffering. She speaks only at the end of the movie: “Thank you. Thank you…for everything.”

‘Thank you… for everything’ by Joe Hisaishi.

Kitano’s Buster Keaton-inspired inexpressiveness had already been on display in his previous films. The right side of his face was paralysed in an accident in 1994. Kitano’s inscrutable visage has remained unchanged in the films that followed the accident, and he has added the involuntary tic in his right eye to his spare mannerisms. Although his conflicted police officer in Hana-Bi says little, Nishi’s deep love for his wife and his sorrow over Horibe’s condition are expressed through actions, but sometimes, like the fireworks that inspire the title, he is just waiting to explode.

There’s the time a passerby berates Miyuki for watering withered flowers. The scene is typical: pastoral calm, followed by an unwanted intrusion that is dealt with by Nishi in a few swift and painful moves.

Kitano’s filmography has its share of diamonds and duds. He applied his idiosyncratic style to tremendous effect in Zatoichi (2003), his version of the fictional blind masseur and master swordsman character that has inspired several adaptations. A period revenge drama starring Kitano in the lead, Zatoichi features gorgeously choreographed and edited swordplay sequences as it follows the blind warrior’s one-man slaughter of a cruel yakuza gang.


Like Hana-bi, Zatoichi has gentle humour, tongue-tied characters (including Tadanobu Asano’s ronin), unhurried moments, and sequences of blood-letting that rip through the quiet like a sword cutting through a cloth.

When he isn’t making meta-movies about himself (Glory to the Filmmakers! Achilles and the Tortoise), Kitano pays mock-serious homage to the yakuza code. In his international hit Outrage (2013), in which a yakuza gang implodes through a series of betrayals, Kitano dispenses with the Zen and sticks with the blood-letting.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.


During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.