Lost in America

Because the relatively low-budget teen comedy is one of Hollywood's few viable genres, it has permitted some of the best commercial movies of the past few years, including Rushmore, Election, and Dick. Anything but insubstantial, Ghost World belongs with these—it's smart enough to recognize that, as fleeting as adolescence may be, the world is haunted by the post-adolescent walking wounded. There's an admirable absence of closure. As the title suggests, the movie is a place—or better, a state of being.

Brother might also have been titled Ghost World. In his first American feature, writer-director Takeshi Kitano plays a typically puckish tough guy, exiled to Los Angeles to escape a Tokyo gang war. The opening sequence, in which the impassive yakuza navigates hisarrival in the foreign city, is as spare, funny, and inventive as anything in the Kitanooeuvre. ("The asshole doesn't even speak English," his cab driver mutters.) Kitano, however, soon demonstrates his trademark volatility—disarming Omar Epps's menacing wino in about two seconds.

A connoisseur's appreciation for nerdiness: Birch in Ghost World
photo: Tracy Bennett
A connoisseur's appreciation for nerdiness: Birch in Ghost World


Ghost World
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Written by Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, from the graphic novel by Clowes
United Artists
Opens July 20

Written and directed by Takeshi Kitano
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens July 20

Kitano is looking for his younger half-brother, a minor-league dope dealer whose homie associates naturally include Epps. Once he finds him, Kitano inevitably decides to build up the business. A military assault on the citadel of L.A., Brother is full of surpriseattacks and coprosperity spheres. The gang calls Kitano's character "Aniki," meaning older brother, although it hardly seems coincidental that he is named Yamamoto, after the Japanese World War II general. L.A. is scarcely more than a backdrop against which Kitano gets particular mileage from staging outrageous Japanese rites: suicide, hara-kiri, lopped fingers. To a certain extent, Brother is a cross-cultural, interracial, homosocial love story in which Kitano learns to riff in English and Epps comes to accept the taciturn Japanese wiseguy as a soul brother: "I love you, Aniki, wherever you are, man," he blubbers in the borderline ridiculous solo that ends the movie.

Scarcely Kitano's finest hour, Brother grows increasingly violent as the Kitano character gets more depressed. The early set pieces are deft and economical: There's a shoot-out inside a car that would scarcely seem out of place in Bresson's L'Argent and a cowboy decimation of a rival gang that could make you laugh with incredulity. But the movie's second half—during which Aniki and company overreach themselves with an assault on the local Mafia—is tedious and uninspired, although the director rallies for a strobe-lit, elegantly framed final massacre that amply demonstrates his unique capacity for combining brutal action and delicate compositions.

If nothing else, Brother confirms Kitano's stature as the most original purveyor of on-screen mayhem since Sam Peckinpah, albeit one whose montage-based violence is neither ecstatic nor cathartic. I'd hesitate to call Kitano a Zen stylist, but he does have a profound grasp of absence—he knows that the most sensational action can occur off-screen and the most visceral shot is the one that has been left out.

Click here to read Simon Reynolds's feature on the makers of Ghost World.

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