Kitano Takeshi on Takeshis'
For years, I was working over an idea of a film I called Fractal, a story about an ordinary guy and events happening around him, but at at a certain point takes weird twists. He enters an imaginary workd in his consciousness, where he sees himself entering yet another world and so on and on. The story unfolds as it interweaves between his actions in reality and those in this imaginary worlds of his consciousness, multi-layered like a Baumkuchen caken.
I first got the idea around the time I was making Sonatine, and since then I have been nudging my producers to green-light the project. But every time I asked, they kept putting it off and telling me "Maybe next time.", until I changed the character, the setting and the plot, and called it Takeshis'.
The biggest difference change I made for Takeshis' from Fractals is the setting of the main character. I opted not only to play the main character myself, but also to set the protagonist as Beat Takeshi / Kitano Takeshi. I figured it was the most effective way to depict characters realistically given the unreal premise of the story. Of course, that does not mean that the Beat Takeshi persona portrayed in the film is the equivalent of my real self. The persona in the film is the amalgam of the public image of Beat Takeshi, that I assume the majority of the Japanese audience, who watches me on TV and on film, would imagine me to be, and the stereotypical "pompous big star" image that I assume to be shared amongst that Japanese audience.
I reconstructed the story with my utmost intricacy, before I set out to shoot it, but as it turned out, my notorious habit of wanting spontaneity and improvising reared its nasty head again and again, both while shooting and editing. When I finally had completed the project, what I felt was not so much a sense of having accomplished what I had wanted for ages, but rather, every time I saw the completed film, finding myself surprised by the strange universe I created on the big screen and how it turned out to be way weirder than I had expected, despite of the fact, that I made the film myself.
For those who are about to watch Takeshis', please stop all your cerebral activities and "feel" and "experience" the movie. And after you have done that, I would appreciate if you would watch it again before you start analysing it.
Kitano Takeshi [Paris, 31. August, 2005]
Beat Takeshi lives the busy and sometimes surreal life of a showbiz celebrity. One day he meets his blond lookalike named Kitano, a shy convenience store cashier, who, still an unknown actor, is waiting for his big break.
After their pathes cross, Kitano seems to begin hallucinating about becoming Beat.
Takeshis? is Kitano?s most personal film to date, his most fragmented and deconstructed in narrative, his most original and inventive as an editor and his most bold and accomplished film as a director. As a Kitano film, it is a masterpiece, but as a film by Kitano, it will most likely confuse a mass audience. Watching it the first time makes no sense, and one finds his words of advice a good support in sorting out this fragmented display of images.
It won?t make much sense to anyone who isn?t familiar with Kitano. One really has to understand what he has strived for the last ten years, how his films and editing has developed, how he is perceived by the public and by himself. As a true Kitano film, it is a masterpiece, more original in its deconstructive narrative and elliptic editing than Dolls, more absurd and inventive in its jokes than Getting Any?
As Kitano himself noted above, and also in the interview, the idea for Takeshis? came to him during the shooting of Sonatine and became known as Fractals, an idea he for more than ten years has tried to get onto film.
The timing for Takeshis? couldn?t be more perfect. Kitano has never been more popular than now, not just because of the huge global success with Zatoichi, but also with Chi to Hone coming up in Europe now. One of the reasons the film was put off was, that it probably would become a commercial flop and even though that doesn?t matter to Kitano, it still matters. Also one can view Takeshis? as Kitano getting back at all those who think they know him solely from his success of Zatoichi, and in that way, the film is very much in the same spirit as Getting Any?, except that Kitano now is considered one of the greatest directors alive, so people will recognize his film, rather than just dismiss it, as so many falsely did with Getting Any? Alone the timing of the film and its context in relation to Zatoichi is something that suggests a closer look.
This is not so much a review of the film, as it is an attempt to catalogue different elements Kitano employs. I have only seen the film once and what follows is based on brief notes I made as they came to me during the 2 hour flight home from Paris.
Reality / Irreality
Like previously in Dolls, but to an extreme degree in Takeshis?, Kitano is once again blending reality with the imaginative world, or irreality, overlaps the two worlds, causing one image at one time to be part of one world, and the same image the next moment the other. As in Dolls, where the bound beggars enter reality and carry the frame over into irreality, so does Kitano continue this way of storytelling here.
One way to do so is by Associative editing: In one scene, Beat is on the set of what seems to be a yakuza film, taking place on Okinawa, and after the director has said ?cut?, Beat is bothered by the heat of the lamp, which seems to get hotter and hotter, until the lamp becomes the image of the sun and the sun is waking up Kitano, who was dreaming he was Beat.
Another way is by Scene Internal editing: In a scene, Kitano is entering a noodle shop and is asking for noodle soup, and the owner is suddenly two actors who just previously have been to the same audition as he was. Here the scene remains the same, but Kitano changes the interior to suggest irreality.
There are more forms of Elliptic editing, but I only have these two fresh in my mind, as have I, what appears to be two allegoric patterns in the narrative: The first begins and ends with the image of the American soldier (see self-reflective below), the second with Kitano finding the dead yakuza in the restroom and taking his gun (suggesting a moral fable). Having only seen it one time, I can therefore not say if there are other such structures.
In many ways does Takeshis? look like a sequel to Getting Any?, and that alone is very interesting, because it suggests that Getting Any? may not have been so ?suicidal? as it is said to be.
Kitano employs a variaty of gags structures in Takeshis?, on face value the at least the same 7 as in Getting Any?, from simple repetition gags, like having images and people popping up at random, to complex association gags, like freezing the gunfire from a gunfight and transposing it unto the night sky, where it then becomes a constellation, to very personal gags, like the shoot-out at the beach, which on one side utterly Eisensteinian in its excess, on the other almost Bunuelian absurd, but as Kitano and as self-reflective ascan be.
Kitano is very outspoken in his use of sexuality in his gags. Apart from very outspoken homophobic gags, he employs frontal nudity and suggestive intercourse several times, and in one gang he even uses the female breasts as turntables.
Within the realm of gags, as in Getting Any?, Kitano here employs the transtextual device of quotations, from apparently simple ones, like having Terajima Susuma at least visually, repeating his running joke signature from Getting Any?, but also become the "spokesperson" for the public opinion of Beat, to complex ones suggesting allusion to other films, like to Hana-bi (the taxi and the bank robbery), to Fellini?s The Clowns (by direct imagery) and 8? (by narrative).
Takeshis? is self-reflective in quiet many ways, starting of course with the obvious self-reflective title (by name) and the narratives allusion to 8? and The Clowns (by contents).
Just as Kikurijo = Father = Self in Kikujiro, so does Takeshi = Beat = Self in Takeshis?. The two films even share a similar structure, as both films open and close with the same image; In Kikujiro it is Masao running across the bridge, in Takeshis? it?s the American soldier.
It is also self-reflective as the character of Beat is the stereotypical "pompous big star" image of Beat Takeshi?s public persona, on one side an arrogant jester, whose acting is limited to shooting up people, and who forgets about everyone who helps him, and the character of Kitano is based partially on how Kitano was before becoming famous, working odd jobs and being rejected at auditions. Here the Takeshi = Beat = Self becomes more suggestive than in Kikujiro, as Beat has nightmares about Kitano and Kitano has dreams about Beat; Even in their dreams they overlap.
Kitano also employs many real-life personal images and objects, like his Rolls Royce, a doll of him doing Comaneci, and personal relationships, like most of the cast (Terijima, Kishimoto, Osugi, Tadanobu) and friends, like the female impersonator Miwa, who was the first celebrity Kitano ever saw in real life.
Kinetic Cinema and CGI
After Zatoichi, Kitano said he didn?t liked CGI, but he uses it a lot in Takeshis?, and just like he began using the kinetic camera in Sonatine, the plural editing in Hana-bi or duality of images in Zatoichi, so does it appear that he has taken to CGI.
It allows Kitano to manipulate the frame itself, like here to add a caterpillar in a flower, to add blood, to manipulate colours and so forth.
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. 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 masters program, thereby sort of ruining the elaborate stunt planned 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 an 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 directors 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 to date 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 his ten other 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.? Thus 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, 500% Kitano ? nothing to add!, supports. 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 exposes part of himself.
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, I wanted the exact opposite here. I 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 before trying to understand it.
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!