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Boiling Point (1990)

Takeshi Kitano is an enigma to me, and I highly doubt I'm alone in that department.

Mostly known by his stage name Beat Takeshi in Japan, Kitano was a popular comedian with a formidable television presence starting back in the 1970's. His directorial debut, Violent Cop (1989), subsequently flew in the face of everything that made him famous. Though darkly funny, it's a brutal, pulpy revenge film and a far cry from his safe, funny TV image.

Then in 1991, he wrote and directed A Scene at the Sea, a bittersweet coming of age drama. After that came Sonatine (another crime film) then Getting Any? (a sex comedy) and Kikujiro (a family film) and so on and so on. The point being, he's all over the fucking place, artistically speaking. And if I had to describe his style in layman's terms, I'd say if Hal Ashby, Quentin Tarantino, and Wes Anderson were all products of incest, Kitano is their mother's brother--so to speak. His work can be ultra violent, funny, twee, sweet, dramatic, absurd, and pulpy, relying heavily on very long takes and detailed characterizations.

And sandwiched in between Violent Cop and Sonatine, both in terms of chronology and style, is Boiling Point. While the movie is certainly one of the odder yakuza films to come around, it does seem to make sense in the context of Kitano's overall filmography. Boiled down to its essence, it's basically a quirky coming of age drama wrapped inside a funny and violent crime picture--all the elements that would come to comprise and define the director's career.

But that's not to say Boiling Point isn't itself a nice little gem. Far from it, actually. I mean, how many yakuza films revolve around a lovable, dysfunctional amateur baseball team? Who doesn't want to watch The Bad News Bears meets Battles Without Honor and Humanity?

The story is as simple as it is ridiculous. Masaki (Yurei Yanagi) is a rudderless young man without any confidence or useful talents. He rides the bench on his amateur baseball team and works a low-paying job at a gas station. One day at work, Masaki has an unfortunate run-in with a local yakuza member, a snowballing event that will drag several members of the baseball team into the violent world of organized crime.

Kitano shows up in a smaller role as a psychopath mobster, who assists Masaki and a friend in their quest against the yakuza. He, of course, steals the show, delivering a shocking and unsettling performance that has to rank as one of the most ruthless gangsters ever portrayed on film. Throughout it all, Masaki, a once formless void of existence, gains confidence and purpose: getting the courage to ask a girl out, hit a home run, and fight for his community.

Though Kitano hadn't fully blossomed as a filmmaker when he made Boiling Point, the film does contain what would later become his go-to staples, such as extended beach scenes, the use of flowers, and Hal Ashby-esque humor. The beach scene here is significant as a contrast to how Kitano typically utilizes them; i.e., where he usually employs the ocean as a kind of Romantic ideal--the sublimity of nature as a means of healing the soul--he purposefully undercuts that notion in Boiling Point by ending the sequence with a horrific moment of domestic abuse.

Which does bring us to violence and baseball. While this film has scenes of extreme and uncomfortable violence, it's overall a fairly slow and deliberately paced affair. The rhythm and pace of baseball hence become the very structure of the narrative. Baseball is a game of anticipation, filled with moment after moment of dullness, until WHACK!--something happens. That's very much in the way the violence is explored in Boiling Point, as a random and chaotic occurrence that can quickly diminish your odds of winning (or staying alive).

Highly recommended for those looking for something a little bit more offbeat.

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