Takeshi Kitano arrived on the filmmaking scene in Japan with his film “Violent Cop”. He had been an actor and a comedian and… Really just a general purpose renaissance man up until that point. He was cast in the comedy action film Violent Cop as a supporting character, but when the director dropped out, he took the reins of the film as the new director and rewrote the entire script into a sort of Dirty Harry story about a sociopath detective who will literally stop at nothing to kill the bad guy. Kikujiro is a much different film than that one, and certainly belongs on your must download internet movies queue.
Kikujiro marks a completely different direction for Takeshi Kitano. Where his earlier films were typically violent gangster flicks, this one is sweet, sentimental, and focused on the concepts of belonging, family, and acceptance. It’s very touching, very upbeat and positive, and will certainly leave you with a smile on your face, if not a tear in your eye.
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 went on to become a popular TV host, and this got him another job as a video game designer. He created a game called Takeshi’s Challenge for the NES. The game began with a title card reading “WARNING: This game was created by a man who hates video games.” We don’t know if he hates video games, but this game hated the player. It included challenges such as holding a single button for several hours straight, a horizontal scrolling shooting game where you cannot hit the up button, so you can only dodge enemies by moving down, and a last boss who took more than one hundred thousand hits to kill.
Kitano’s odd sense of humor comes through very well in this movie. Kitano plays Kikujiro, an old man who fits the lovable loser archetype. He escorts a young boy across Japan to meet his estranged mother. He winds up blowing all their money at the tracks, thinking the kid is some kind of psychic after predicting three race winners in a row.
So Kitano is then forced to beg for food, scoring two sandwiches, and eating his own out of the boy’s sight so he can pretend that he’s doing without for the child’s sake. This is a very sweet moment, with Kikujiro showing that he’s not above lying to try and earn the boy’s respect and affection.
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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