Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano is my favorite director in Japan right now. The first film of his that I watched was Dolls; at the time, it had been recently premiered (2002 or 3.) Someone from the Internet community I used to frequent was praising the film, so, fan of everything Japanese as I was back then, I went looking for it. Now, my memory gets fuzzy at this point, but of one thing I’m sure: I ended up not only watching Dolls, but Hana-bi too, and while the former was a good movie with interesting cinematography, it’s the latter which really caught my interest and made me the fan that I’m now. The film was so very contrasted; it was violent but it was not raw as life, it was preternatural, it sublimated the awful and the quietly beautiful and confronted them, just as black and white struggle in the chiaroscuro of a romanticist painting. The stillness and the orthogonal perspective and framing of the camera captivated me.
The perhaps strange thing do consider is that, in his early years of fame, Kitano performed as ‘Beat Takeshi’ in manzai comedy duo Two Beat. Last night I watched Glory to the Filmmaker! (Kantoku, Banzai!,) a comedy that seems to harken back to those days. It’s worth mentioning that this is not his first comedy, but it does seem to be his silliest. It could easily be divided into parts and made into a TV show; even better if it’s live, with the audience laughing and interacting. Office Kitano’s troupe would do great in television, if this movie is any indication, as I constantly felt the actors about to come out of the screen, almost talking directly to me; breaking the fourth wall is not a new thing for Kitano, but it seemed like the whole point this time around. For starters, the movie is about Kitano himself (again, nothing new,) or, rather —in a way that reminded me of Adaptation,— about his troubles trying to make a film. But the script is fanciful, so while that is the point of the movie for the first half hour or so, it promptly forgets about all that and decides to just incoherently throw situation after situation, loosely tied by the characters and a certain chronological continuity—and this is what I meant by it being perfect for television. I spent most of the movie staring at the screen and going ‘what the F?,’ too offput to even laugh, as I had a hard time even deciding when it would be appropriate. Yes, it’s a weird, stream-of-consciousness, post-modern comedy; and if that sounds appealing, then it won’t disappoint you. Me, I actually liked the film immediately preceding it in Kitano’s filmography better: Takeshis’.
Maybe this fact is true of Glory… as well, but probably more so for this film: You should watch it only after you have amassed a decent number of Kitano’s movies under your belt; otherwise, most of the irony will be lost on you. It’s an absurd comedy as well, but in it, the character of Kitano himself, as a director, is at the center of the attention the whole time. Here, Kitano is not only himself, but also a regular, quiet store clerk that happens to be a fan of Kitano’s. After he meets him and is ridiculed by his idol, the story drifts into the surreal; every character has a more sordid double in town, and the store clerk-Kitano turns into a parody of the yakuza characters that Kitano himself has impersonated in his gangster films. This time the script loses coherence but not focus, as it is delivered at a tight and ridiculous pace. It feels like a film the whole time through, too.
If the abovementioned films are meant for a knowledgeable fan, then the complete opposite must be Zatoichi, apparently his most commercially successful film to date. The good thing about it is that he does not compromise; yes, it’s part of a franchise (not unlike England’s James Bond,) but the movie still exhudes Kitano. It’s an action/comedy flick of a blind swordsman, which sounds (and is) a clichéd concept, but the Kitano flavor takes precedence: you’ll be amazed when the tap dance group The Stripes intervenes in the background; it gave me goosebumps, at least. If you’re new to the glorious filmmaker, then give this film a watch.