takeshi kitano: takeshis' review

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By Andrez Bergen
Special to the Daily Yomiuri - Nov. 3, 2005

Takeshis' ***
Dir: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: 'Beat' Takeshi, Kotomi Kyono, Kayoko Kishimoto, Susumu Terajima, Koichi Ueda, Akihiro Miwa

Two years after dusting down Shintaro Katsu's blind Zatoichi persona for his quirky period-drama rejig, Takeshi Kitano is back in his own original territory - with a somewhat intriguing inclination towards double-vision.

Takeshis', which debuted at this year's Venice International Film Festival and subsequently screened at the celluloid festas in Vancouver, Toronto and London, has thus far traversed a bumpy course, with critical maulings riding shotgun up there alongside the more expected superlatives.

On one level a homage to the yakuza gangster flicks Kitano helped to define (since taken to the violent extreme by Takeshi Miike in Ichi The Killer), this movie also doubles as a parody of the style and might just be Kitano's farewell kiss to same. The 58-year-old writer/director has quipped that this is a funeral for the genres he explored over the last dozen movies, in particular the gangster premise, and die he apparently does - several times over - as do more than half the cast and extras in a series of grandiose shoot-outs. The yakuza die. The samurai and the sumo die. Heck, even the deejay in the club scene dies.

In the process Takeshis' throws together a smattering of melancholia, a wacked-out sense of humor, tap-dancing musical interludes, a Bonnie & Clyde twist, and touts more guns than a John Woo slug-fest. The narrative structure is as peppered as a spray of bullets from an Uzi.

The gist of the story is a shake-down of two characters played by 'Beat' Takeshi (Kitano) himself: one the "real life" movie star/director, and the other a shy, deadbeat convenience store clerk who aspires to an actor. But there's a third overwhelming id here, and that's Kitano's own on-screen alterego from those earlier yakuza romps. The question - which one of these three is the real McCoy? - disintegrates as proceedings reach out on a surreal, metaphysical limb in which dreams interplay with reality, nightmares become farce - and then all swings violently back into an unsure version of the here and now. This makes for a sublime visual feast that's as baffling as it is refreshing.

Kitano's trilogy of parts aside, there's a bevy of other doppelgangers, mirror images and dead-ringers rife throughout this movie. Kotomi Kyono, while a tad dull as the movie star Takeshi's girlfriend, bears more than just costume jewellery sparkle in her ulterior role as a glitzy, ditsy yakuza girlfriend who happens to be the deadbeat Takeshi's tormenting neighbor.

As the creative synod here, Kitano certainly isn't afraid to poke fun at himself or the genres he's looked at more seriously in the past. But, after teasing with some mischievous insights, he then skirts the issue. And the weak moments in Kitano's earlier film Dolls (2002) - self-conscious "artistic" references - are stitched into Takeshis' with abandon. A recurring clown motif, bullets-as-star-constellations riff, and heavy-handed symbolism (in this case of a caterpillar) almost bludgeon the viewer, as if Monty Python had taken a blunt instrument to David Lynch - rendering it all a bit like Eraserhead on a bad hair day.

Not that this is such a bad thing; at times, it's brilliant. In some bizarre way - don't bother asking how - Kitano pulls off the slap-stick Mothra-sized larva pantomime that appears at various stages throughout proceedings.

But on the whole it's these asides that make the movie lurch, and off-shoots like the World War II scenes that book-end the film come off as just plain obscure. Takeshis' could have been that much stronger a movie. As it stands, in spite of (or because of) the pointed vignettes, the tap-dancing, and the associated meanderings-within-daydreams, it's a minor masterpiece. Just.


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