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KIKUJIRO

SYNOPSIS:
Nine year old Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) is a lonely kid as summer arrives. Living with his grandma, not even knowing his parents, Masao discovers a photo album with his mother's picture and address - a long way away. One of grandma's friends cajoles her obnoxious, lazy, irresponsible husband Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano) into taking the boy on the trip with some of her own money. Mister, a hot-tempered buffoon who may once have been a gangster, immediately gambles away all the money for the trip at the racetrack - forcing the pair to proceed by living on their wits, hitching rides, and staying in hotels without paying. Along the way, they have various encounters with other travellers, allowing Mister to let off some steam while Masao silently observes the strange ways of his unlikely companion.

"Comedy arises when people are treated like objects: I forget who originally said this, but the thought certainly applies to the cinema of Takeshi Kitano. Conventional acting, here, counts for little; timing and framing count for almost everything. Sometimes Kitano stages a gag in wide-shot and lets us see it coming a mile off; sometimes it arrives all of a sudden, literally from an angle we didn't expect (a character strolls into some bushes and instantly falls down a concealed hole). A non-comic example of the same technique: when Mister takes Masao to the racetrack and starts gambling away their money, another director might have wanted an emotional display from the child. Kitano just has him stand to one side, head bowed, still and silent, until the sheer persistence of his inert presence becomes a rebuke to the adult's stupidity. Many of the jokes are explicitly about Kitano's tendency to transform people into props, as when Mister bullies chance acquaintances into wearing ridiculous costumes or taking part in sadistically conceived games. But the transformation is never complete: dressed up or posed in the tableau shots Kitano is fond of, the characters are always embarrassed figures in a stiff postcard landscape, uncertain how they got there or what they're meant to do. This awkwardness is what Kitano finds funny. Much more could be said about Kikujuro, a new film that immediately feels like a minor classic - partly because the cinematic formula of a child plus a childlike rogue is both extremely familiar and extremely effective, partly because for Kitano to make a children's film seems bizarre (given his taste for violence) yet inevitable (given his quizzical, childlike gaze). Most of all, the film triumphs through the sheer wit and confidence of Kitano's storytelling - and he does tell a story, even if opportunities for action, drama or direct emotion are always evaded or downplayed. The deadpan non-reactions of his characters are funny because the characters do have feelings even if they don't show them; hence Kitano can convey more sadness in three shots where nothing much happens than another director can in three hours of vocal angst and despair."
Jake Wilson

"Takeshi Kitano (aka Beat Takeshi) himself acknowledges that this has 'ended up a very strange film with my trademark all over it.' What made Cannes and Toronto fest directors screen the film beats me. Motivated to make the film as a forced departure from his gangster films, to do something unexpected, Takeshi has indeed made a forced film. If he had seen Central Station and found inspiration in it (which appears a possibility) he forgot to import some of that film's values. Kikujiro lacks the characterisation to make it moving, the story to make it interesting and the structure to make it engaging. Odd stylish flourishes intrude on an otherwise naturalist environment; flimsy 'magic realism' is given a few shots. Frequent non sequiteurs act like speed humps for the audience, and many scenes could be edited down to half their length without loss of content. Kikujiro's character is not that different to Takeshi's gangsters, so I don't see much progress or change, except of course he doesn't kill anyone. But he is still violent and callous. I was one of the few critics who didn't like his much acclaimed Hana-Bi, so don't be surprised if other writers find this film an important milestone for Beat. I find it a rather dull road trip and not so much a milestone as a tripping stone."
Andrew L. Urban

"Takeshi Kitano is famous in Japan for his gangster films. While it's always admirable that directors and performers try to stretch themselves, it doesn't always work. It certainly doesn't here. Kitano is writer, director, editor, and star. In the role of Kikujiro (Mister) he uses his familiar stage name of Beat Takeshi which came from a time when he was a member of a well known comedy duo. They say humour doesn't travel well between cultures and Kikujiro certainly does nothing to dispel that conventional wisdom. The timing is slow, the Chaplinesque pratfalls have developed little since Charlie's time, and there are whole sections of the film where it is difficult to know whether or not we are meant to laugh. Comedy, though, is just one of the problems in this hackneyed grouch meets gorgeous kid road movie. Again it could be a cultural problem, but for Western audiences, Mister is way too much of a grouch. The man is a surly, ill-tempered pig who believes in getting his own way through lies, deceit, and bullying, and if that doesn't work, abuse automatically follows. What's to like? Sure we've seen this formula a million times before and it does need a new spin. But a loathsome hero? Don't think so. There are a couple of moments where some softness is attempted, but Yusuke Sekiguchi plays only sullen and confused and is able to find little chemistry with Takeshi. Kitano was just as unsuccessful while wearing his other hats, producing an exceedingly slow and almost unendurable film."
Lee Gough

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

See our SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

KIKUJIRO (M)
(Japan)

CAST: Takeshi Kitano, Yusuke Sekiguchi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Great Gidayu, Rakkyo Ide, Nezumi Mamaura

DIRECTOR: Takeshi Kitano

PRODUCER: Masayuki Mori, Takio Yoshida

SCRIPT: Takeshi Kitano

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Katsumi Yanagishimia

LIGHTING DIRECTOR: Hitoshi Takaya

EDITOR: Takeshi Kitano

MUSIC: Joe Hisaishi

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Norihiro Isoda

RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 16, 2000

Festivals: Cannes 1999, Toronto 1999







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