I Need Japanese Steel

Went DVD shopping today and picked up Ghostbusters and a trio of Tarantino films (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill Vol. 2). Which leads me to a question John posed below in the comments. He writes:

I thought “Kill Bill, Vol. 1” was too violent and had a lot of pointless running around. I must be missing something, especially considering I haven’t seen many samurai movies at all.

Why on earth do you think it’s easily the best movie of 2003?

Well, first of all, these things are subjective. Some people don’t like violent movies, that’s OK. I’m not gonna tell you you should like it, just try to explain why I do.

First off, some background. Kill Bill is an homage to a certain genre of film. The Martial Arts, Samurai/Yakuza and Blaxploitation films of the 70s, to be specific. What these films all have in common is violence. Not just plain old Die Hard style violence, but crush your head like a melon, spray the screen with fake blood level violence. The violence is not meant to be realistic, nor do people look at it that way. Usually, in these films, its all in fun: people like to see blood geysering out of a severed head. Well. . .some people do. There is that element of playfulness and jokiness to the violence in Kill Bill, but there’s more to it than just that.

Take, for example, the sequence near the end of the big fight scene between the Bride and the Crazy 88s. Someone (for no apparent reason) shuts off the power in the Inn. The Bride and her combatant are only visible as black silhouettes on a blue background. The fight is abstracted to it’s essence: bodies moving through space. This is what people mean when they compare kung fu movies to ballet: both art forms are primarily concerned with the image of the human body as it moves and interacts with other bodies. In ballet, you have toe shoes and a tutu. In Kill Bill, a motorcycle suit and a badass sword. The point is the same: it looks pretty, and it looks cool.

Another, non-violent yet terrific thing about Kill Bill is the way it’s written. Not just the catchy dialogue, of which there’s less of than in any other Tarantino film, but in the structure and economy of the narrative.

It may be cliche now to start a movie in the middle and jumble up it’s timeline (Tarantino’s done it in three of his four films) but it still works as a way of keeping the audience on edge and guessing and involved with the plot. In fact, that might be one of the reasons I prefer Vol. 1 to Vol. 2: aside from the long flashback sequence, the narrative in Vol. 2 is strictly A to B.

But it’s the economy of the script that really stands out to me. The way Tarantino can create wholly unique, interesting and memorable characters with just a few lines of dialogue is amazing. For a film with so little dialogue, there are a remarkable number of fascinating characters in Kill Bill: Hattori Hanzo, GoGo Yubari, O-Ren Ishii, Buck, The Sherriff, not to mention The Bride herself.

And there’s more: terrific acting by Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, and, especially, Sonny Chiba, the best use of music of any Tarantino film, and any film at all since Boogie Nights, the great, long steadycam tracking shot setting the scene for the House of The Blue Leaves sequence, the absurd, yet beautiful, snowscape for the final battle between The Bride and O-Ren, the audacity of putting a long (violent) anime sequence right in the middle of the film, and on and on.

There isn’t a filmmaker alive who loves movies more than Quentin Tarantino, and that shows in every frame of this movie. It’s a movie for people who love movies by people who love movies. It isn’t surprising, then, that film geeks tend to like it a lot more than normal people.

One thought on “I Need Japanese Steel

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