After establishing himself as part of the popular "Two Beats" duo - spawning a long running career in television - Kitano turned his hand to acting. "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" (1983) first dented the consciousness of Western audiences.
When the director of "Violent Cop" (1989) fell ill, Kitano seized the opportunity to helm. With deadpan wit, moral ambiguity and flashes of extreme violence, it signalled the arrival of a major and prolific (Kitano often writes, directs, edits and stars) new talent.
"Boiling Point" (1990) contained many of the thematic (sadistic gangsters, vulnerable youths, codes of honour) and aesthetic (stylised violence, precision editing and fluid camera) motifs redolent in Kitano's work. "Scene At The Sea" (1992) was a radical departure. Remaining behind the camera, Kitano delivered a gentle, Bressonian love story about a garbage worker who teaches himself to surf.
"Sonatine" (1993) was a return to familiar concerns. The tale of a yakuza boss (Kitano) who takes refuge with his men (including regular Susumu Terajima) in a coastal hideaway, fully explores cinema's formal possibilities, acting as a meditative look at the inevitability of death. For many, a career best.
"Getting Any?" (1994), a surprisingly redundant gangster parody about a young scamp's desperate attempt to lose his virginity followed. "Kids Return" (1996) picked up the slack. An autobiographical work about a failed pugilist's attempts to go into comedy, it extends warmth and humility to its characters.
Made after a serious accident, "Hana-Bi" (1997) was largely influenced by Kitano's new-found interest in painting and in the value of life itself (Kitano plays a retired cop lured into crime by wanting to give his terminally-ill wife a final holiday). Much lauded at Cannes and a Venice prize-winner, it ranks amongst his finest work.
"Kikujiro" (1999) signalled another departure. The story of a ne'er-do-well (Kitano, who else) seconded into helping a young boy find his absent mother, is a road movie of sorts, allegedly inspired by "The Wizard of Oz". Tender and humane, it also featured Kitano's ex-comedy partner Kiyoshi in a minor role.
Which brings us to "Brother" (2000), Kitano's first American production. A highly compromised effort that, though imbued with customary intelligence and style, ultimately offers little more than a retread of Kitano's moments from his better, earlier works.