By one of these coincidences that make you wonder the very day the strongest earthquake in memory hit Japan, a Japanese film festival took place at the cinematheque in my city. Kikujiro which I saw last night is a very special film in the Japanese cinema and in the filmography of Takeshi Kitano.


The fans of Kitano will notice that he is taking the character he usually plays in the gangster movies and creates here a failed version of it. He is dominated by a bad-mouthed wife. His walk is uncertain, closer to Chaplin’s than to a well assured yakuza. He does have a scaring tatoo on his back but this becomes just the reason of the bad dreams of his little boy friend. When confronted with a gang of local gangsters he ends by being beaten in a situation in which his self from other movies would have killed his opponents in a fraction of time. All over the film he looks more like inadequate and unadapted to reality.

(video source wsavantgarde)

There is however much more in the character than this. The name – which we learn in the last scene – is the real name of Takeshi Kitano’s father which is said to have shared at least some of the vices of the character in the movie like gambling. This is a personal film in which a lonely young kid gradually gains some kind of a father instead of the one he never had. The feelings of the little boy and his permanently sad look may have been inspired by the feelings of kid Takeshi and his disappointments in the relation with his father.

(video source atteheikkinen)

By the time Kitano made this movie the ‘grumpy man – lonely kid’ films (which had the classic in Chaplin’s Vagabond) were making a comeback. In 1996 the Czech Kolya had moved audiences and the Oscar jury with the story of the relation between the Czech musician and a Russian kid in occupied Czechoslovakia. Two years earlier Natalie Portman’s first breakthrough was in Leon, where she befriended another gangster played by the wonderful Jean Reno. Kitano was not afraid to take over a popular theme which he developed adding to it other dimensions to the merge of mature and childish loneliness.  The film speaks about in-adaptation and about the right to be different.  It brings on screen characters to illustrate that different people can get together and create beauty from weird. The Poet and the two motorcyclists seem to come out from the Land of Oz in a very different road experience.

(video source getting2)

The style of the film is inspired by some of the Japanese popular culture techniques and form of art. The kid’s dreams look like traditional theater scenes. A toy he receives and starts relating to it as an amulet looks like one of artist’s Takashi Murakami gadgets. Acting is excellent and the music belongs to Joe Hisaishi, a composer famous in Japan and author of the soundtrack of more than 100 films. While you need to make a small effort to get into the mood and buy the transformation of the traditional gangster image in Kitano’s films, Kikujiro ends by being a very satisfying cinema experience.