For American audiences, "Beat" Takeshi Kitano used to seem more rumor than reality, a filmmaker whose work, while raved about by Quentin Tarantino and others, remained virtually inaccessible in the U.S. A multi-talented performer and creator, Kitano achieved fame in Japan as a comedian before becoming a film actor, a career move that eventually led to work as a director, writer, and editor. The first Kitano films released here, Sonatine (1993) and Fireworks (1997), showed a filmmaker with indisputable skill in each field, a fully formed renaissance man with a masterful ability to create crime thrillers that balance disturbingly artful violence against an unexpected moral center. It was enough to give the impression that Kitano emerged from out of nowhere with those abilities. Just released on video, his first two films as a director, Violent Cop and Boiling Point, help erase that perception, making it apparent that Kitano took some time to find his voice, even if he made interesting films from the start. Both Cop and Point deal with revenge, but from two different points of view. The first, Violent Cop (1989), more than lives up to its name; from the start, Takeshi displays an eye for unique, viscerally affecting ways to stage action scenes. He also shows an ability to rely a little too heavily on the conventions of the revenge film. Kitano stars as the title character, a policeman whose sense of justice is rarely in alignment with his sanctioned duties. Like a less compassionate version of Lee Marvin in Point Blank, Kitano plays a man single-mindedly set on revenge. But where his trademark stonefaced stare in other films suggests an untold tempest of pain, here it just as often indicates a robotic monomania. And as gripping as Violent Cop is in other respects, it suffers from a lack of complexity, both in its story's structure and in its point of view. Though flawed as well, 1990's more freewheeling Boiling Point shows Kitano finding his voice. Though it hasn't quite found the right combination, the film's blend of drama, offbeat humor, complex characters, and shocking violence would serve Kitano well in later work. Taking a supporting role, Kitano gives the spotlight over to Masahiko Ono, playing a gas-station attendant and amateur baseball player with a grudge against the local mob. It's a stranger and better film than Violent Cop, as well as an indication of even better things to come.

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