Blood and Bones – Review
by Miguel Douglas on May 27, 2010
In 1923, the young Kim Shun-Pei moves from Cheju Island, in South Korea, to Osaka, in Japan. Along the years, he becomes a cruel, greedy and violent man and builds a factory of kamaboko, processed seafood products, in his poor Korean-Japanese community exploiting his employees. He makes fortune, abuses and destroys the lives of his wife and family, having many mistresses and children and showing no respect to anybody. Later he closes the factory, lending the money with high interests and becoming a loan shark. The film is told from the perspective of Masao, his legitimate son by his abused and degraded wife, who knows nothing about his father other than to fear him.
Adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by author Yan Sogiru, Blood & Bones presents the story of one man’s moral descent and utter obsession of obtaining wealth at any cost—even if it means losing the little humanity he has left. Played magnificently by Takeshi Kitano, the main character Kim Shun-Pei is showcased here as a ruthless Korean immigrant living in Japan, whose selfish nature is often times exerted for the sake of power and dominance within his circle of associates, friends, and numerous times, his very own family. What makes Blood & Bones stand out is that it centers entirely on a single Zainichi Korean family and their community—Zainichi being a term used to delegate ethnic Koreans who reside in Japan. It comes at no surprise then that the harsh and turbulent times of the post & pre-war era in Japan are only amplified when dealing with a foreign ethnic group such as the Koreans, who at the time were considered inferior to the Japanese. This eventually results in a people just clinging onto survival—and gives the opportunity for Kim Shun-Pei to exploit every facet of it.
The absolute brutality of Kim Shun-Pei is the prime focus of the film, and Kitano expertly portrays a man who has no sympathy for others. Director Yoichi Sai had reportedly waited six years for Kitano to take up the role, mainly because he felt he could be the only actor capable of such ferocity. He was completely right in doing so—Takeshi vividly conveys the very essence of a character such as Kim Shun-Pei. From his disastrous role as a father and husband, to his brutal domineering of the people within his community, Takeshi presents an emotionally detached individual in perhaps his most realistic and frightening role thus far. Takeshi commands the role and makes it his own, effortlessly demanding every scene he’s in as a character hell bent on obtaining only wealth and power.
For all the harshness showcased throughout the film, Blood & Bones is also a film that focuses on the effects that a character such as Kim Shun-Pei has on his family. The adverse effects showcased are ones of tragedy and despair, all provided from the causation of Kim Shun-Pei’s violent behavior. We begin to view this family as trapped within a social structure they can’t possibly escape from—while the world is changing around them, they are still stuck within the slums of Osaka. It’s this claustrophobic atmosphere that pervades the very essence of the family dynamic within the film. They are trying to break free of the familial bondage they share with Shun-Pei, but the social and economical structure sadly won’t allow it.
Blood & Bones is a film that won’t be easily accessible to many viewers, simply for its utterly brutal depiction of familial violence—more specifically that of the Korean community—within Osaka during the pre-war and post-war era. Director Yoichi Sai doesn’t shy away from showing us how generational violence and greed can ultimately destroy not only the family, but also the individual as well, and courageously showcases the devastation that follows. Blood & Bones is a beautifully directed and superbly acted film, and in many cases is Takeshi Kitano’s career-defining performance. For this alone, the film is worth viewing, as well as for presenting a disturbingly brilliant picture of the immigrant dream of prosperity gone awry.