NOTE:Although this Hong Kong Import DVD is NTSC, it is coded for playback in Region 3 only. In order to watch this disc, you'll have to have either a player coded for Region 3, or a Region Free DVD Player.
Written and directed by Yoichi Sai, Blood And Bones is about as dark a film as you're likely to see any time soon, complete with a powerhouse performance from Japanese superstar Takeshi Kitano and a grim storyline to boot. It's not an easy movie to get through and it tackles some very ugly subject matter to be sure, but it's so well done that you can't help but appreciate the movie even if you'll find yourself wanting to turn away more than a few times during playback.
We're first introduced to a Korean immigrant living in Japan since the 1920s named Kim (Kitano) as he's slapping his wife around before he winds up brutally raping her. This sets the stage for the man whose life we'll be following for the next two hours – he's full of hatred, contempt for his fellow man, and has nothing but disdain for everyone around him as we see by the fact that when his daughter comes into the room while he's doing the deed, he doesn't even bother to stop. Kim moved to Osaka earlier in his life and worked his way up from taking jobs as a manual laborer to running his own fishcake factory. His hatred and his anger have served him well in that purpose, at least, as it seems to have given him the drive he needed to beat the odds and make a success out of himself, at least financially, despite the racism he's had to deal with since he moved.
All the wealth in the world doesn't stop Kim from his horrible ways, however, in fact it seems to just make his behavior more and more extreme as instead of terrorizing his family he's now able to terrorize his employees as well, ruling over them with an iron fist. When he branches out into illegal loan sharking, he's quick to take down anyone who defaults on a payment owed, going so far as to beat them within an inch of their life if need be. He beats his children, takes a mistress and openly flaunts her in front of his wife, and angers his son to the point where he gets into a first fight with him after a failed attempt on his life with a knife.
While Kim is destroying himself and everyone around him, the political climate of Japan is also changing. The military is growing and the country is embracing that, while the Korean immigrants who have tried to make new lives in the area continue to be the object of ridicule and hatred from the native Japanese. As Kim's life changes through the years, so too does the country he lives in, and when the war ends, things take a downward spiral as things start to become almost parallel in spots. We also see how violence begets violence as the sins of the father pass from one generation to the next.
Covering roughly sixty years during its two hour and thirteen minute running time, Blood And Bones is almost a complete biography of a single man who is, for whatever reason, completely pissed off at the world around him. The scars on his body indicate he might have suffered at the hands of an abusive parent but the movie tells us know more than that and we're left to make up our own minds as to why Kim behaves the way that he does, which makes things all the more dire, as what he does seems completely random and completely horrible, rather than explained by some sort of back story. We know that he suffered from bigots when he immigrated but this doesn't explain why he beats his own family and friends or treats them the way that he does – he simply does. Because of that, the movie is nearly two and a half hours of abuse, which makes it quite disheartening and tough to watch. Kim systematically breaks the will of every one of his family members and most of his employees and even most of the people who live in the immigrant community around him, becoming almost a Godfather of sorts and a very feared member of the community.
With that being said, Kitano's performance in this film is absolutely brilliant. He's terrifying in the part, and if you thought he was intimidating in some of his earlier films (the slapping scene in Violent Cop springs to mind), you really have no idea how intense he can get as in Blood And Bones he sets a new standard for the cinematic bastard. At times the movie feels a little like Gasper Noe's I Stand Alone, as it shares some of the same lead character traits, but it deals more with the family dynamic and the trickle down effects of Kim's brutality.
Interestingly enough, the film is based on an autobiographical book by a Korean born immigrant who moved to Japan named Yang Sok Gil making it appropriate that Yoichi Sai, who is also of Korean descent, should direct the project. This isn't going to be a film that appeals to a wide audience as it is very challenging material and the long running time combined with the bleak material do make it a tough watch, but Kitano's performance makes the whole thing worthwhile in the end. It certainly isn't a film that many will want to go back to time and time again but it is definitely an experience in the exploration of the dark side of human nature, twisted family dynamics, and human politics.
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this release isn't quite perfect, but it's very solid none the less. The only major flaw is that some scenes look quite soft and some of the really fine detail gets just a tad washed out but this isn't a problem throughout the movie, and the disc otherwise looks very good. The color definition is strong although this is a fairly bleak movie to start with so don't expect things to be leaping off of the screen at you, and the black levels stay strong throughout with no signs of mpeg compression artifacts to discuss. Edge enhancement and aliasing is barely visible in one or two scenes but otherwise is never a problem. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there's a very high level of both foreground and background detail present in all but the aforementioned softer scenes. Overall this is a very satisfying transfer.
This release contains audio mixes available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and DTS-ES 5.1 Surround Sound. Optional English subtitles are included (for the feature only) that do a pretty good job of translating the film and that don't contain any noticeable typographical errors save for the odd awkward phrase here and there and optional Chinese subtitles are included as well. Regardless of which track you choose (the DTS 5.1 gets the slight edge for stronger bass and for providing a marginally more immersive experience) you should be pretty happy with the results. The dialogue is crisp, clean and clear and there are no problems at all with hiss or distortion. Surround usage on both of the 5.1 mixes is great, and quite active at times but more subtle and quiet when it needs to be, nothing feels too over the top or out of place, it's all very well balanced. Worth noting is that the Korean and Japanese dialogue in the film is differentiated in the English subtitle track, which was a pleasant surprise..
The only extra feature on this two disc release is a featurette on the making of the film, which sadly, has no English subtitles to speak of. Clocking in at roughly forty-two minutes in length, this documentary features interviews with the director and the star as well as some of the other people involved in making the movie and features a wealth of behind the scenes footage as well. It's refreshing to see such a relaxed atmosphere on the set, what with the movie having such an intense vibe going on throughout and despite the lack of any English subtitles, there's still some interesting stuff in here to check out.
Those who are appreciative of bleak cinema along the lines of Gasper Noe's work should find Blood And Bones to their taste. While the movie is a little too long, Kitano's performance is simply outstanding and his presence in this film makes it all worthwhile, even if it's a completely depressing experience. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.