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Sonatine (1993 film)

original poster
Directed by Takeshi Kitano
Produced by Masayuki Mori
Hisao Nabeshima
Ritta Saito
Written by Takeshi Kitano
Starring Beat Takeshi
Aya Kokumai
Tetsu Watanabe
Music by Joe Hisaishi
Cinematography Katsumi Yanagishima
Edited by Takeshi Kitano
Distributed by Shouchiku Daichii Kougyo (Japan)
Miramax Films (U.S.)
Release dates
  • 10 September 1993 (1993-09-10)
Running time
94 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese

Sonatine (ソナチネ Sonachine) is a 1993 Japanese film directed by Takeshi Kitano. It won numerous awards and became one of Kitano's most successful and praised films, garnering him a sizable international fan base.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Soundtrack 3
  • Reception 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Kitano plays Murakawa, an enforcer for the Tokyo-based yakuza tired of gangster life. He is sent by his boss to Okinawa, supposedly to mediate a dispute between their allies, the Nakamatsu and Anan clans. Murakawa openly suspects the assignment is an attempt to have him removed and even beats up one of his colleagues, Takahashi, whom he distrusts, but ends up going with his men. He finds that the dispute is insignificant, and while wondering why he was sent to Okinawa at all, the group's temporary headquarters are bombed and they are then ambushed in a bar, leaving several of his men dead.

Fleeing to the seaside, the survivors take refuge in a remote beach house belonging to a brother of one of the Nakamatsu members and decide to wait for the trouble to blow over. Whilst spending time at the beach, the group engages in childish games and pranks and begins to enjoy themselves. However, the games frequently have a violent undertone. When two of his men alternate shooting at a beer can on each other's head, Murakawa turns it into a game of Russian roulette. Putting the seemingly loaded gun to his head, he pulls the trigger on the last chamber. The chamber is revealed to be empty and Murakawa is unharmed.

He later dreams of the Russian roulette game, although in his dream, the revolver is loaded and he is killed. When he wakes up, he walks down to the shore. He sees a car pull up, and a man drags a woman into the sand and attempts to rape her. Murakawa stoically watches for a while and then walks past them. When the man realizes Murakawa has been there the whole time and shouts at him, Murakawa headbutts him. The man pulls out a knife and threatens Murakawa. Murakawa then shoots the man, but to his companions, he claims the woman shot him. She then joins Murakawa and the gang at the beach house, and comes frequently to visit, spending time with Murakawa.

Later, an assassin disguised as a fisherman appears. He kills several people, including the boss of the Nakamatsu clan and one of Murakawa's men, in the middle of a Frisbee match. Learning that Takahashi is arriving in Okinawa, Murakawa and two of his surviving men visit his hotel. Unable to find him at first, they unexpectedly run into Takahashi and the assassin in the elevator, which results in a shootout, killing the assassin and Murakawa's men. Murakawa learns from interrogating Takahashi that their boss had intended all along to partner with the Anan clan and had sent Murakawa to Okinawa in order to get killed and thus take over his turf. He also learns that the boss will be meeting with the Anan that night in a hotel. Takahashi is killed and Murakawa sets off with the only survivor of the group, a member of the Nakamatsu clan, who helps him by rigging the electricity in the hotel to go off at a certain time. Murakawa tells the woman that he may come back, and the woman promises to wait for him.

Later that night, while waiting for all the yakuza to arrive, the Nakamatsu member asks Murakawa to take him with him, but admits that he has had enough when Murakawa asks. When the electricity goes off, Murakawa goes into the hotel and slaughters both clans with an assault rifle. The next morning, while the woman continues to wait for him, Murakawa drives to a spot near the beach and commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. The scene then switches to the car and the horizon and slowly fades.



Soundtrack album by Joe Hisaishi
Released 9 June 1993
Length 51:11
Label Toshiba EMI

The CD soundtrack was released in 1999 by Milan Records, too.[1]

  1. "Sonatine I (Act of Violence)"
  2. "Light and Darkness"
  3. "Play on the Sands"
  4. "Rain After That"
  5. "On the Fullmoon of Mystery"
  6. "Into a Trance"
  7. "Sonatine II (In the Beginning)"
  8. "Magic Mushroom"
  9. "Eye Witness"
  10. "Runaway Trip"
  11. "Moebius Band"
  12. "Die Out of Memories"
  13. "See You..."
  14. "Sonatine III (Be Over)"


The film's theatrical release in Japan was a commercial failure as Kitano was only perceived as a popular owarai comedian, and the audience was not prepared, nor capable, to accept him as a credible gangster noir character. However, with Kitano not yet famous abroad, the film benefited from this different situation, especially in the European market.

Sonatine was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.[2] French publisher and notorious movie-goer, Jean-Pierre Dionnet (Canal +/Studio Canal), reported in an interview, that someone convinced Alain Delon to watch Sonatine arguing that Kitano was a fan of Le Samouraï. Delon was taken aback, and talking about Kitano's acting, said "what's THAT? [...], this is not an actor [...], he only got three facial expressions and he almost doesn't talk on top of this." Most professionals around Dionnet had the same reaction, but the French publisher was both struck and puzzled by this new genre. He contacted the Japanese distributor in order to buy the license for Sonatine, but his request was rejected. Dionnet had to insist for several months to finally discover that the Shochiku didn't want to release Sonatine abroad, claiming the film was "too Japanese" and would not be accepted, nor understood, by western audiences. Eventually Dionnet learned that the distributor didn't want to release the license because of its commercial failure in Japan. Dionnet had an agreement with the Shochiku arguing that the French audience didn't know Kitano's career and would accept his violent character more easily. He bought Sonatine and three additional subtitled films, Violent Cop, Boiling Point and the latest, Kids Return, all of which performed poorly in Japan (A Scene at the Sea and Getting Any? were not licensed). In 1995, Sonatine entered the 13th Festival du Film Policier de Cognac (Thriller Film Festival of Cognac) in France, where it was critically acclaimed, and lastly, Sonatine, followed by the three other films were broadcast on the French channel Canal+ few months later.[3] Then a couple of years later on the Franco-German public channel Arte. A video release followed, including a DVD edition available in Dionnet's collection "Asian Classics".

In 1997, Hana-bi was premiered in Italy, at the Venice Film Festival, where it earned Kitano the first prize, known as the Golden Lion award. The critical success of the movie led a part of the Japanese audience to reconsider him as a true, important, filmmaker and earn the attention of North American publishers.

As soon as 1995, Takeshi Kitano (credited as "Takeshi") played the role of a yakuza in American director Robert Longo's SF thriller, Johnny Mnemonic. In North America Sonatine was released in theaters in April 1998 and, another Kinji Fukasaku enthusiast, Quentin Tarantino, released a subtitled video edition in 2000 as part of his "Rolling Thunder Pictures" collection. The same year, Kitano was convinced by his producer to go in the United States where he filmed his first (and last) film outside Japan. Brother was shot in Los Angeles with an American crew and local actors including Omar Epps. In an interview, Kitano admitted he was not fully satisfied with the final result of Brother and that he regretted his "Hollywood" adventure which was supposed to bring him a broader audience with a higher exposure. Kitano confessed he had no intention of shooting outside Japan any more.[4]


  1. ^ Sonatine- Soundtrack details. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Sonatine". Retrieved 2009-08-23. 
  3. ^ Jean-Pierre Dionnet's interview on the Sonatine DVD edition, published in Jean-Pierre Dionnet's "Asian Classics" collection (DesFilms/Studio Canal), France, 2001 (EDV 384)
  4. ^ Takeshi Kitano interview on the Brother DVD edition, published by TF1 Vidéo, France, 2001 (EDV 1035)

External links

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