Based on a popular Korean novel, but cast entirely with Japanese actors and written with predominantly Japanese dialogue, “Blood and Bones” is a kimchi-flavored, Nipponese blend of “The Godfather” and “East of Eden.” Starring Japanese helmer/thesp Takeshi Kitano as a violent patriarch, film is both a grueling portrayal of the Korean-Japanese experience and a family drama packed with enough meat for three miniseries. While B.O. should be solid in Japan and nearby South Korea, Kitano’s unsympathetic role is too far removed from the tastes of his Western fanbase to ensure much action farther offshore. Fest play looks more certain.
Young Korean national Kim Sun-pei (Kitano, under his acting moniker Beat Takeshi) lands on Japanese soil for the first time in 1923. Kim’s predilection for unbridled violence is established as the narrator (Kim’s son Masao) reveals he was born after his father raped his mother with his sister looking on.
Treating his wife, children and fellow members of the Korean migrant community in Osaka with disdain, Kim drinks and womanizes, establishing multiple mistresses, siring several bastards and acquiring great wealth. Bullying his way, he develops a fishcake business into a loan-sharking and property empire.
Although pic is an emotional onslaught from the get-go, several obstacles prevent it from properly connecting with the viewer. As all the characters have built metaphorical walls around themselves to survive the violence in their lives, few make much impact at an emotional level. The problem is accentuated by pic’s determination to compress 61 years of familial tyranny into the space of two-and-a-half hours: The constricted narrative feels like a direct legacy of its unwieldy literary origins.
Script, co-written by helmer Yoichi Sai (“Quill”), himself a Korean-Japanese, touches on multiple aspects of the Korean experience in Japan, including forced subservience during WWII and the hope of liberation offered by North Korea’s communism. But by staying exclusively within the Korean community, the narrative unrealistically excludes the racism experienced by Koreans living in Japan.
Main problem, however, is that Kim is such an overwhelming character it’s difficult to take an interest in anyone else. As the miserly slave driver cum alcoholic rapist, Kitano blows almost everybody else off the screen, chewing the scenery with the same relish as his character eats maggot-ridden meat as a form of self-discipline. Among supporting thesps, only Joe Odagiri, as the bastard-son-turned-yakuza who gives his father a run for his money, claims much in the way of memorable screentime.
Tech credits are accomplished and art direction, including CGI, is stylish. Print caught had genital nudity obscured by black blurring, a standard Japanese censorship device that will doubtless not be replicated on prints for international distribution.