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Though steeped in gangster violence and championed by Quentin Tarantino, Takeshi Kitano's films are so Eastern that they haven't made much of an impression outside of the art house circuit (and even there the reception has been mixed). And if 2000's Brother is any indication, Kitano probably will never cross over — the film was meant to introduce Kitano to an American audience, yet didn't make a dent at the box office. But though its structure may make it a little more familiar to western audiences, it's a Kitano film through and through — which paradoxically is both what makes it interesting and why it failed. After Yamamoto (Beat Takeshi, Kitano's acting moniker, who also directed, edited, and wrote the film) is exiled from Japan to protect a fellow Yakuza, he arrives in Los Angeles to live with his half brother Ken (Claude Maki), who calls him Aniki (Japanese for "big brother"). Ken is also in a life of crime, out on the corner dealing drugs with his friends — including Denny (Omar Epps), who Aniki stabbed before the two were introduced. As Aniki becomes involved with Ken's business, his Yakuza second Kato (Susumu Terajimi) comes over to join him, and they take the gang to the top. But as their money and enemies increase, Aniki finds himself bored and only interested in his friendship with Denny. Brother will test the patience of most western viewers, who may find it hard to accept the stillness of Kitano's camera: Even the frequent gunplay is less exciting than the usual gangster action film because there's more shock and sadness than actual adrenaline. Perhaps the producers thought Kitano might become another John Woo, but Woo's films were always a bit Hollywood to begin with, where Kitano has never seemed interested in American films or styles. Set (mostly) in California, Kitano removes the familiar landmarks of L.A. and turns it into an anonymous city, focusing on the familiar gangster saga (shown best in Howard Hawks' 1932 film Scarface) of a rise to power and fall from grace. But where most films of this type — and even Scarface itself — revel in the immorality of their main characters, Brother approaches its denouement with the knowledge that money and power were always fleeting. Though occasionally the English readings are flat, Kitano has a sharp eye for faces, and the score by Jo Hisashi is beautiful. Columbia TriStar's DVD presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio, and an array of subtitles. The film was toned down for American release, but these cuts have not been restored for the DVD — those unbound by region coding may wish to check out the Region 3 release, which not only features the uncut version but also includes DTS audio. Bonus trailers, keep-case.

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