is composed of two Chinese characters: Hana means "flower
," whereas Bi/hi is "fire
." Like its eponymous kanji
, the movie Hana-bi provides these two contrasts of beauty and violence. Kitano mixes many polar images: a bloody shootout, a tender moment of husband and wife play cards in a car; the night images in the city
, daytime playing at the beach
Besides writing, directing, and starring in this movie, Kitano also painted the works which appear in the film. These range from abstract paintings of animals with floral heads to pointillist scenes of people on the shore. The most striking image, though, is a night scene of falling snow. The snow is painted as the kanji Yuki (snow) flecked with fireflies, represented as Hikari (light). As the camera pans on the canvas, the white ground is shown with a red character Shi (death), seemingly written in blood.
The story is centered around two cops, Nishi and Horibe, who both encounter hardships in their life. Horibe becomes paralyzed after being shot during a stakeout. He has to leave his job and, soonafter, his wife and child leave him. Despondent, he tries to kill time through painting, spending afternoons in his wheelchair on the beach. He initially scoffs at the idea since police work is all he's ever known, although he leans towards painting since he has no other choice. Midway through, he almost gives up, but he presumably overcomes his own despair, shown when he throws a can of paint on the snow scene canvas which expresses his thoughts of death/suicide.
On the other hand, Nishi's wife is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Nishi borrows money from the local yakuza and goes on a trip to the countryside with his wife. Nishi, however, still brings violence with him wherever he goes, from beating up an innocent bystander to killing some of the yakuza in a parked car. Nishi and his wife share many touching moments, although they never say as much as a word to each other. In the end, however, Nishi decides that living a short, strong life is better. His wife seems to understand the situation, and she says her only words to him: "Thank you." Then he kills her and himself while sitting on the beach.
I usually don't care for violent flicks, and many of Kitano's movies make me cringe often. However, in Hana-bi, it is the contrast of the beautiful & peaceful with the ugly & violent, which I find interesting. The parallel lives of the two cops who both face hardship yet take different paths is also fascinating.
Most people I know hated Hana-bi or slept through it, so it's definitely not for everyone. It's very slow-paced and similar to other of Kitano's films. However, out of the various movies of his I've seen, I enjoy this one the most.