Now On Blu-ray: Kitano's KIKUJIRO And DOLLS From Third Window Films UK
Our favorite UK based Asian film distributors are at it again, this time with a pair of Kitano Takeshi classics on Blu-ray.
Earlier this month, Third Window FIlms released KItano's Kikujiro and Dolls on Blu-ray for the first time in English friendly editions. Are they worth your money?
We sure think so, check out the gallery below for more!
Todd Brown and Niels Matthijs contributed to this story.
Kitano's Kikujiro is my favorite directorial effort of his, and by no small margin. This is a film that feeds the soul, nourishes the goodness in all of us, and reminds us that being a screw up or a loner isn't always bad. Our own Niels Matthijs summarized the film quite succinctly here:
The film follows a young boy, Masao, who sets out to find his mom. The boy lives together with his grandmother while his mom is providing for her family elsewhere in Japan. With all his friends leaving town for summer vacation, Masao is left alone and decides he needs a mission to brighten up his holidays. Right before he skips town though, he is spotted by two former neighbors. Unable to let Masao leave by himself on such a long trip, Kikujiro (Kitano) is sent to guide the boy in his quest to find his mom.
Kikujiro is somewhat of a scoundrel though, so the first few days they mostly hang out at the race track, trying to make some money. Slowly the two grow fond of each other and after some false starts they set out to complete Masao's mission. Once the two are finally on their way, the film truly blossoms and Kikujiro no Natsu becomes a relaxing and comical journey through the Japanese countryside.
Niels Matthijs continued his review and summarized my feelings beautifully several years ago when he included Kikujiro in his series of personal favorites:
Kikujiro no Natsu follows all the praise Kitano received for Hana-bi, a film that won him the Golden Lion in Venice (helped by the support of Tsukamoto) and immediately launched his international career. Even though Kitano dabbled in different genres prior to releasing Hana-bi ( A Scene At The Sea, Getting Any), to the West he was the director of gritty Yakuza films sporting an off-beat sense of humor. In return, Kitano (never shy to challenge a few misconceptions about his persona) decided to direct Kikujirno no Natsu, a warm and comical road-movie with some smart touches of drama.
Even though Kikujiro no Natsu is a beautiful and accomplished film, the first half hour starts off a little slow. Once the two are on their way, traversing the Japanese countryside, things get a lot better and after that the magic never settles. And even though the dramatic climax lies well before the film ends, the final half hour is easily my favorite part of the film, playing like an extended cut of the sea-side scenes in Sonatine. With little story left to tell, Kitano can focus completely on the laid-back atmosphere while his characters are camping out and thinking up silly games. The feel-good factor rises through the roof during these final 30 minutes.
Kitano's humor is simple, somewhat childish and often improvised, but thanks to the typical editing and his superb comical body language it works wonders. The dramatic climax is beautiful, the overarching atmosphere relaxing. And what truly lifts the entire film above itself is Hisaishi's superb soundtrack. Kikujiro no Natsu is a lovely little road movie that I can recommend wholeheartedly to everyone willing to have a try. It's not my favorite Kitano, but that's just because he's made so many good films to choose from.
Unlike Niels, this one is my favorite Kitano, and it's relentless positivity in the face of overwhelming odds easily the most obvious reason why. With Kikujiro, Kitano shrigged off the notion that perhaps he was a one note filmmaker. Even though Hana-bi is not exactly a family film, it does stray from his formula a bit, but still sticks on the fringes of the Yakuza oeuvre. In Kikujiro, we have a small time ne'er-do-well who may be a bad influence and subservient largely to his own desires, but he's a softy at heart, and not a gangster, even though he may want to become one.
With a colorful cast of confederates along for the ride and drafted to help lift young Masao's spirits, Kitano created a wonderland where the young boy can forget his cares and abandonment and embrace a new life free from regret. Like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes by the end of Kikujiro, and the combination of Kitano's gentle touch with sensitive subject matter and Joe Hisaishi's remarkable score – one that rivals his best work for Ghibli – Kikujiro is a film that has to be seen to understand just how powerful it is. Astonishing.
Third Window's Blu-ray release comes from Office Kitano's HD remaster used for the Japanese Blu-ray disc and it looks and sounds great. The visuals are nthign flashy, but the clarity, depth of detail, and colors all pop more than you've ever seen. The real hero of this disc, though, quite like Hana-bi, is the HD upgrade of the iconic Joe Hisaishi score. Every time those first strains of “Summer” ring out, I go to my happy place, and they've never sounded better.
In terms of extras, Third Window only included one, but it is a doozy. We get the feature length behind the scenes documentary Jam Session , which is a fly-on-the-wall style doc that simply follows the creation of the film as it happens without external commentary or interviews. For some it will be bliss to simply watch the film be created by a master, for others it could become tedious without additional context. I'm definitely in the former camp and I cannot recommend this film and disc highly enough.