A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Maybe you're too rich for this business,'' a friend tells Murakama, the stone-faced gangster hero of ''Sonatine.'' Murakama, who rarely says anything, has let it slip that he is tired. Very tired. When he is not actually engaged in the business of being a yakuza, he simply stops moving at all, and sits, staring into space, sometimes with a cigarette, sometimes not.
He is tired of living, but not scared of dying, because death, he explains, would at least put an end to his fear of death, which is making his life not worth living. When he explains this perfectly logical reasoning, you look to see if he is smiling, but he isn't. He has it all worked out.
''Sonatine'' is the latest film to be released in this country by Takeshi Kitano, who wrote, directed and edited it--and stars in it under his acting name, Beat Takeshi. It arrives here only a month after ''Fireworks,'' his 1997 Venice Film Festival winner, but was made in 1993, the fourth of his seven films. He is the biggest star in Japan right now, and as a filmmaker one of the most intriguing.
This film is even better than ''Fireworks.'' It shows how violent gangster movies need not be filled with stupid dialogue, nonstop action and gratuitous gore. ''Sonatine'' is pure, minimal and clean in its lines; I was reminded of Jean-Pierre Melville's ''Le Samourai'' (1967), another film about a professional killer who is all but paralyzed by existential dread.