Yamamoto (Takeshi Kitano) is a brutal and experienced Yakuza enforcer whose boss was killed and whose clan was defeated in a criminal war with a rival family. Surviving clan members have few options: either to join the winners, reconciling with shame and distrust, or to die by committing seppuku. Yamamoto, however, decides to escape to Los Angeles along with his associate Kato (Susumu Terajima). There he finds his estranged half-brother Ken (Claude Maki), who runs a small-time drug business together with his local African-American friends. At the first meeting, Yamamoto badly hurts one of them, Denny (Omar Epps), for an attempt to fraud him. Later, Denny becomes one of the Yamamoto's closest friends and associates.
Used to living in a clan and according to its laws, Yamamoto creates a hapless gang out of Ken's buddies. The new gang quickly and brutally attacks Mexican drug bosses and takes control of their territory in LA. They also form an alliance with Shirase (Masaya Kato), a criminal leader of Little Tokyo district, making their group even stronger. As time passes, Yamamoto and his new gang emerge as a formidable force, gradually expanding their turf to such an extent that they confront the powerful Italian Mafia. Now everybody respectfully addresses Yamamoto as Aniki (兄貴, elder brother). But soon Aniki suddenly loses any interest in their now successful but dangerous business, spending his time with a girlfriend or just sitting silently thinking about something. However, the Mafia ruthlessly strikes back, and soon Yamamoto and his gang are driven into a disastrous situation of no return as they are hunted down one by one.
Beat Takeshi as Yamamoto, also referred to as Aniki (meaning elder brother)
Omar Epps as Denny
Tetsuya Watari as Jinseikai Boss
Claude Maki as Ken
Masaya Kato as Shirase, the "boss of Little Tokyo"
Susumu Terajima as Kato, Yamamoto's lieutenant
Royale Watkins as Jay
Lombardo Boyar as Mo
Ren Osugi as Harada
Ryo Ishibashi as Ishihara
James Shigeta as Sugimoto
Tatyana Ali as Latifa
Makoto Otake as Chief of police
Kouen Okumura as Hanaoka
Naomasa Musaka as Hisamatsu
Rino Katase as Night club Madame
Joy Nakagawa as Marina, Yamamoto's girlfriend
Amaury Nolasco as Victor
Tuesday Knight as Prostitute
Impressed with Europeans' interest in yakuza, Kitano wrote what he described as an old-fashioned yakuza film. To greater contrast the character against more familiar elements, he set it in a foreign country, choosing Los Angeles as a place-holder. When producer Jeremy Thomas asked Kitano if he was interested in foreign productions, Kitano told him about the script. Thomas promised him complete creative control, which Kitano said he got. Commenting on the differing styles of filmmaking, Kitano said that American productions are more focused on the business side and are less sentimental. Kitano cited their strong pride in their professionalism as positive aspect.
Several scenes were censored for the U.S. release.
At the time of its release, Brother was hyped as Kitano's vehicle for breaking into the United States film market. The film has a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 73 reviews. Roger Ebert, who has praised all of Kitano's films he has seen, complimented Kitano in his review but ultimately rated the film two out of four stars, writing that "Brother is a typical Kitano film in many ways, but not one of his best ones."
On his side, Kitano stated in an interview that he was not fully satisfied with the final result of Brother and that he regretted his "Hollywood" adventure which was supposed to bring him a broader audience with a higher exposure. Kitano said he had no intention of shooting outside Japan again.