"Violence is indispensable to get other messages across. This bothers me a lot" observes Takeshi Kitano in the documentary made during the making of Hana-Bi (Fireworks).
This is the most self-indulently arty Kitano film I've yet seen; his own music and paintings are prominent, arguably over prominent. The score sounds a bit like the theme from some execrable seventies series and tends to drown out the action in places.
Clearly the order in which you experience the works of an important artist will be crucial to your appreciation of their greatness. The first Joseph Conrad novel you choose to read, the first Almodovar film you see - these experiences define all future expectations.
The maturing of Almodovar has also resulted in greater emotional complexity, but this has not always translated into greater depth. (Conrad is generally regarded to have gone off the boil later in his career, but perhaps as a result of a decrease rather than an increase in his level of ambition.)
Yoshitaka Nishi, the inevitable ruffian with inner sensitivities at the heart of this film, is one of Kitano's most reflexively and blankly brutal protagonists, yet appears to have redeeming features beyond the usual existential crisis.
There are many moments in Hana-Bi I know I would have been lastingly impressed with, had I not already seen their like in other Kitano movies. Still, there's much to enjoy and to decipher. One distinguishing feature of this film is the way the director involves the viewer in the (re-)construction of the meaning of many of the scenes.