TIFF Report: Takeshis' Review

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)


Though I quite enjoyed Kitano's latest film I've held off reviewing it thus far because I'm still trying to get an adequate handle on how to apprach it and I erally don't feel that I have a lot more to add to what Kurt and Mathew have said about it already. However, Henrik Sylow - who runs the stellar Kitano website KitanoTakeshi.com - sent in his take on the film today. If there's anyone out there who knows the man's work better than Henrik I certainly don't know who it is and his take on things makes for a great read ...

Suddenly, completely out of nowhere, Kitano's next film was announced during Cannes 2005, with a huge black banner with big red letters spelling Takeshis', and with smaller white letters 500% Kitano – nothing to add. Instant confusion and curiosity. Instant clicking onto Office Kitano, which offered the exact same. Instant frustration. No synopsis, no cast, no poster. Not even a trailer… that until mid July, where a teaser began running the theatres in Tokyo, and from September 1st on Office Kitano, showing Kitano tap dancing on a railroad.

The first to break the silence was Toronto, who announced that Takeshis' would run in their master program, thereby sort of ruining the elaborate planned stunt by Kitano, who unannounced showed up in Venice and in the very last minute Takeshis' as the 12th and last entry in the competition. Of course Marcus Moeller had known this all along, but for the public, the surprise was almost total.

Kitano had hardly sat foot in Venice, before a invitation only press screening and later the same day the first public screening took place. The reaction was cold, to say the least. Casual applause and people shouting “Give us our money back!”, and one critic said, “We love your dreams, but we are not your therapist!”

Clearly the audience was confused and frustrated about the film. There is literary no plot, it is reality blended into fantasy blended into dreams, it is deconstructed to the last frame, where Kitano edits using sounds, images, impulses and suggestive dreams as cause for his idiosyncratic cause / effect ellipsis. But he had warned the audience ahead. In a statement from the director, Kitano had asked the audience not to attempt to analyse the film, but instead just to let go and feel the film, and in the press conference afterwards, Kitano said, "I want audiences to come out of this film not knowing what to say or what to think.” But somehow they didn't listen to what Kitano had to say. After all, they were critics and they could understand a film instantly, and if they failed to do so, it was the director's fault. Takeshis' was bombed. Returning home to Japan to vote in the recent elections, Kitano was asked about his reactions to a confused European audience, to which Kitano amused said, “Sometimes it is good to be confused.”

Takeshis' tells the story of Beat Takeshi, the real life Kitano, who is famous and knows everyone, who by chance meets his blond doppelganger, a shy convenience store cashier named Kitano Takeshi, who, still an unknown actor, is waiting for his big break. After they have met, Kitano begins to hallucinating about becoming Beat, and the more he is turned down at the daily auditions, the more intense his dreams become.

Kitano conceived the idea some twelve years ago during the shooting of Sonatine. Then called Fractals, the idea was to depict how an ordinary persons dreams would create an imaginative world, where the dream personas dreams would create another imaginative world and so on, going back and forth between his actions in reality and those in his imaginary worlds. The project was for many reasons put off thru the years, until now, where Kitano rewrote the storyline and made himself the protagonist.

It is the most personal film ever from Kitano. There is so much of him in the film, carefully camouflaged and altered to keep his privacy. Beat is part the real Kitano, part perception of how the mass audience perceives him, both thru his films and thru the gossip. Here, Beat is an egocentrically megastar, who as an actor stars in mindless actions films, where he does little than shooting people. In one scene, Beat is sitting in a Porsche on an Okinawa beach and suddenly dozens of policemen and samurai appear in front of him and just as suddenly Beat stands in front of the Porsche with a machinegun in each hand blasting them away, them not hitting him. Either you get the joke, or you don't.

And getting the joke is the key. Before you even can begin to think about analysing the film, you must get the joke. You must be able to see what Beat and what Takeshi represent. You must be able to see why Terajima Susuma tells everyone, that Kitano has forgotten about him and constantly pops up. It is all about who Kitano is and what his films are about. To me, Takeshis' is a second suicide attempt by Kitano, like Getting Any?, not only because of its very essence, but also because the title can be read as Takeshi and Shis (shisu meaning to die in Japanese), suggesting the title meaning Takeshi Dies. When asked, Kitano noted upon this and pointed out, that Takeshis' marked the finale, the end of one stage of his career as director.

To view Takeshis' as a “suicide” is intriguing. For the sake of argument, somehow the sudden worldwide fame thru Zatoichi made Kitano feel uncomfortable, because he gained so much fame thru a film that really wasn't his to begin with. On one side we have ten films by Kitano, who “no one” has seen, and on the other side one film he was asked to make, which “everyone” has seen, which made more money than all this other ten films combined. And in the words of the great master, “It's like, the more dignified or serious the situation is, the more nervous and stressed I get, so I have to do something funny to shake it off, to make me relax. It's just an instinctive reaction I have.” So in order to shake the image based on Zatoichi of him, he made Takeshis', an idea which coincides with what he told Joan Dupont, “I wanted to make a movie that can't be pigeonholed.”

Another way of interpreting the title is it being plural, suggesting multiples Takeshi, an interpretation the films tagline supports: 500% Kitano – nothing to add! There are indeed many Takeshis. There is the famous comedian, the TV icon, the public persona of being a celebrity, the actor, the director, the private after work Takeshi and so on. Each is unique, each so different, yet all is the same person: Kitano Takeshi. Kitano himself calls Takeshis', “… a very confessional film …a film which comes deep from my heart.”, where he, still behind a protective screen, exposes his inner self.

Once the joke is passed, Takeshis' blossoms up and is, in my opinion, Kitano's most accomplished film as a director and especially as editor, where he continues to develop his ideas of reality vs. irrealty, which he began in Dolls, of kinetic cinema and of elliptic structures to reduce narrative to a minimum of scenes, while at the same time, it being mostly dreams, being allowed to create images, sequences and scenes, which has been with him for over a decade. The technical side of Takeshis' is very important to Kitano. When I talked to him, he pointed out, that his intentions with the film was to make people uncomfortable, to be understood, as where a normal entertaining film makes the audience comfortable, he wanted the exact opposite here. He wanted people to wake and sit up and pay attention to even the smallest details of each frame, to listen carefully to even the most trivial dialogue, to study tiny visual hints and then observe how they would lead up to what follows.

The original title for concept behind the film was Fractals, and Kitano also uses mathematical terms when describing the structure of the film, “The film can be solved using algebraic solution or factorization with x,y,z,α,γ,β, even Σ, but there is one element which is logarithmic ellipsis, so there would be one thing which is unsolvable.”

Clearly, Takeshis' is not a film, where you just can sit down and then 108 minutes later say, what a great film, or for that matter, what a bad film. Each image, each cut, each sound, each situation is personally important to Kitano, so important, that he for the first time ever asked the audience not to judge it at face value, but to let the experience of it sink in.

As a Kitano film, it is a masterpiece, but as a film by Kitano, it will confuse and thus fail with a mass audience. It matters nothing what we reviewers say about the film. In the end, the only thing that matters is, that Kitano finally got these ideas and images out of his head and onto film, and that we the audience can view them. In the end, what matters is, that Kitano as not just a director, but also as a person, shares his dreams with us. To call them good or bad would be misplaced. So what's left is to approach the technical side of Takeshis' and it displays a Kitano which has taken a quantum leap in terms of elliptic structures and plurality. Therefore Takeshis' is Kitano's most personal film to date, most original, inventive, bold, genial and accomplished film as a director. Takeshis' – 500% Kitano – Nothing to add!

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