Takeshi Kitano is without a doubt one of the greatest living film directors. He got his start as a film director with the action film Violent Cop. Interestingly, he sort of stumbled into this job. He was hired to play a supporting role, when the director dropped out. Kitano took the reins of the project and reworked the comedic script into a much darker, more sombre film. He upped his own role to lead and then turned the story into something more akin to Dirty Harry, where it had previously been more along the lines of Lethal Weapon and other comedic action flicks. Kikujiro is worlds away from Violent Cop, and certainly one of the must download internet movies if you want to see what Takeshi Kitano is really all about.
Kikujiro is really something different, or was at the time, for Kitano. He had generally been creating violent gangster films about the Yakuza. He first moved away from that genre with a film about surfers. When asked why his new movie had no yakuza in it, he said “Well you know yakuza have to chop off their fingers on their left hand when they disobey orders. And surfers have to paddle their boards out to sea. If a yakuza tried to surf, he would only paddle in circles.” This sense of humor defines all of his work, including the sentimental, touching tale told in Kikujiro.
Kitano has led an interesting career. Before becoming a film maker, he went by the name of Beat Takeshi as part of a comedy duo called The Two Beats. That was another career he stumbled into. He had been an emcee at a night club when the comedian they’d hired for the night got sick, and he had to take the microphone and give an on the spot comedy routine. People loved him, and he became an overnight sensation in Japan.
He would eventually become a popular TV show host, and even get a job designing his own video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, called Takeshi’s Challenge. The game followed a salaryman who gambles, drinks and fights the yakuza. It featured bizarre challenges such as holding a button for an hour straight and a last boss who takes well over one hundred thousand individual strikes to kill. It wasn’t so much a game as it was a torture device, starting with a warning reading “This game was made by a man who hates video games!”
Kitano’s humor really is odd, and this film carries it on. The film follows Kikujiro, an old man, a lovable loser type, who escorts a young boy across Japan to go and meet his estranged mother. The man blows all their money on gambling, believing that the boy is psychic after predicting the winning horses in a three race lucky streak.
He winds up begging for food, and giving the boy half of it before eating his own half out of sight of the child. This way it looks like he’s going without for the child’s sake, and it’s very touching that he would lie to earn the boy’s love and respect, if a little unethical.
The movie is, again, very sweet. Watching the old man and the young boy bond is moving and touching, and within one another, the two find their own definition of the word family.
The movie Kitano is known for in the US is Sonatine, but just as Chow Yun Fat is a comedy star in Asia, not an action star, Kitano is a man capable of much more than just gangster flicks.
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