Directed by Takeshi Kitano. Starring Beat Takeshi, Omar Epps, Claude Maki, Masayo Kato, Ren Ohsugi and Susumu Terajima.

Beat Takeshi (pseudonym of Director Takeshi Kitano) plays Yamamoto, a tough, inscrutable Yakuza gang member who is forced to leave Tokyo after being jettisoned by his erstwhile clan. After fleeing his homeland, Yamamoto decides to seek out his younger half-brother Ken (Claude Maki) in Los Angeles.

After his arrival on US soil, the intense isolation of Yamamoto's predicament begins to emerge. Alone, with no knowledge of the language, Yamamoto's first taste of Western life is a violent altercation with an African-American youth. Different country, same way of life.

When Yamamoto eventually tracks down Ken, he finds him enmeshed in a life of small-time drug dealing. Among Ken's gang is Denny (Omar Epps), the same youth with whom Yamamoto had the confrontation on his arrival. Despite initial suspicions and hostilities, an unexpected bond begins to develop between Denny and Yamamoto.

With lethal and brutal efficiency, Yamamoto soon takes control of the local drug turf, expands operations and joins forces with rival Japanese crime lord Shirase (Masayo Kato). Firmly ensconced in a fresh miasma of murder, violence and sadism, Yamamoto realises there is no turning back when his gang refuses to bow to the Mafia.

As a representation of the Yakuza modus operandi, 'Brother' relies heavily on style over substance. Visually stylish it undoubtedly is, yet the film falters in its depiction of central character Yamamoto. While his inscrutability is an integral part of his character, one gets the feeling that Yamamoto could have benefited hugely from a keener sense of development - in the micro as opposed to the macro sense. And while the performances themselves are largely satisfactory, the clutter of characters on offer here leaves the film open to suggestions of 'too many cooks.'

If the yardstick for mob flicks is 'Goodfellas' (and it should be), then 'Brother' doesn't stand a chance. On its own, however, it is a stylish, colourful film, which ultimately entertains more than drains.

Tom Grealis