Sonatine (1993 film)

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Theatrical poster
Directed byTakeshi Kitano
Produced byMasayuki Mori
Hisao Nabeshima
Ritta Saito
Written byTakeshi Kitano
StarringBeat Takeshi
Music byJoe Hisaishi
CinematographyKatsumi Yanagishima
Edited byTakeshi Kitano
Distributed byShouchiku Daichii Kougyo (Japan)
Miramax Films (U.S.)
Release date
  • 10 September 1993 (1993-09-10)
Running time
94 minutes
Box office$58,834[1]

Sonatine (Japanese: ソナチネ, Hepburn: Sonachine) is a 1993 Japanese yakuza film directed, written and edited by Takeshi Kitano, who also stars in the film. It won numerous awards and became one of Kitano's most successful and praised films, garnering him a sizable international fan base.


Kitano plays Murakawa, a Tokyo-based yakuza enforcer who has grown 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.

Murakawa 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 on a suicide mission to 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.



The film was conceived with four basic scenes; Yakuza having to go to Okinawa, Yakuza arriving in Okinawa, the machine-gun shootout, and the main character shooting himself in the head. Kitano said his shooting technique is spontaneous in that he allowed the film to fill in the space between these four scenes itself.[2]

The title Sonatine comes from the musical term sonatina. Kitano said that when learning the piano, when the learner gets to sonatinas they have to decide where they want to go, whether it is to classical, jazz or popular music; marking the point of crucial decision making. This refers to the character Murakawa in the film.[3]

The film's poster is of a Napoleon fish being pierced with a spear. Kitano said this type of fish used to be very common in the oceans south of Japan, but has been decreasing. He used the image simply because the contrast of the "beautifully shaped" fish being speared seemed striking to him.[3]


Sonatine 8066.gif
Soundtrack album by
Released9 June 1993
LabelToshiba EMI

The soundtrack to Sonatine was composed by Joe Hisaishi. It won the Japanese Academy Award for Music in 1994.[4] The CD soundtrack was released in 1993 by Toshiba EMI, and later in France by Milan Records.[5]

  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)"


Sonatine was a commercial failure upon its initial release in Japan; however, Western critical reception has been generally positive. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% of 25 professional critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.4 out of 10.[6] Roger Ebert, who gave the film three and a half out of four stars, said it shows that gangster films do not need to have "stupid dialogue, nonstop action and gratuitous gore" and that it reminded him of Le Samouraï.[7] The Guardian's Rob Mackie called it "a largely peaceful, contemplative work, punctuated by moments of extreme violence" and gave it four out of five stars.[8] Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club summed the movie up as "a fresh take on the age-old yakuza genre that's infused by odd flourishes of style and playfulness, and jarring outbursts of humor and violence."[9] Complex named Sonatine second on their list of The 25 Best Yakuza Movies, behind only Battles Without Honor and Humanity.[10] Jasper Sharp, writing for the British Film Institute, listed it as one of the 10 great Japanese gangster movies.[11]

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.

Graffiti in Sant Adrià de Besòs depicting a scene from Sonatine.

Sonatine was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.[12] 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 has 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 did not know Kitano's career and would accept his violent character more easily. He bought Sonatine and three additional Kitano films, Violent Cop, Boiling Point and the latest, Kids Return. With the exception of "Kids Return", all had performed poorly in Japan. In 1995, Sonatine entered the 13th Festival du Film Policier de Cognac in France, where it was critically acclaimed. Sonatine, followed by the three other films were broadcast on the French channel Canal+ a few months later.[13] 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".

As soon as 1995, Takeshi Kitano 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 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.[14]


Sonatine won the Cariddi D'oro award for Best Film at the 1993 Taormina Film Fest.[15] Aya Kokumai received the Best New Encouragement award at the 3rd Japan Film Professional Awards for her performance.[16] The film's soundtrack won the Japanese Academy Award for Music in 1994.[4] In 1995, it was awarded Critic's Choice at the Festival du Film Policier de Cognac.[17]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "The Genesis of Sonatine". Zatoichi/Sonatine (DVD). Miramax. 2004.
  3. ^ a b "What is Sonatine?". Zatoichi/Sonatine (DVD). Miramax. 2004.
  4. ^ a b 第17回日本アカデミー賞優秀作品 (in Japanese). Japan Academy Prize. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  5. ^ Sonatine- Soundtrack details. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  6. ^ "Sonatine (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  7. ^ "Sonatine (1993)". 1998-04-17. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  8. ^ "DVD review: Sonatine". The Guardian. 2009-05-29. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  9. ^ "The New Cult Canon: Sonatine". The A.V. Club. 2008-08-13. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  10. ^ "The 25 Best Yakuza Movies". Complex. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  11. ^ "10 great Japanese gangster movies". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  12. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Sonatine". Retrieved 2009-08-23.
  13. ^ 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)
  14. ^ Takeshi Kitano interview on the Brother DVD edition, published by TF1 Vidéo, France, 2001 (EDV 1035)
  15. ^ "Director - Takeshi Kitano". Office Kitano. Retrieved 2015-11-29.
  16. ^ "第3回日本映画プロフェッショナル大賞" (in Japanese). Japanese Professional Movie Awards. Retrieved 2015-11-29.
  17. ^ "Festival du Film Policier de Cognac 1995" (in French). Retrieved 2015-11-29.

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