I have been a huge Beat Takeshi fan since the start of his career. I was at junior high school then. I used to listen to all of his midnight radio programmes. He did those for a decade, but I only ever missed a few. However, I have met him just once in person. It was six years ago, when I was working as an editor of a magazine. A colleague of mine was interviewing him and I tagged along. I remember Takeshi saying, "Owarai (Comic Performance) is like a never ending move." That was a theory of his which he brought up a lot. He would say things like, "If I talk badly about the Yakuza and they get angry and come after me, I'll just apologise and run off I'll say sorry and run. Or maybe 'Fuck!', then run." He'd also say, "Comic performers shouldn't take responsibility for what they have said and done." When you look closely at Takeshi's life, you find that it does reflect his theory, quite clearly in fact. It's just one continuous sequence of running away from everything, of never getting caught. The very first time he put that theory into practice was when he ran away from home.

When Takeshi was working as an apprentice at France Theatre in Asakusa, shortly after he had dropped out of university, dreaming of becoming a comedian, Kiyoshi Kaneko (aka Jiro) suggested that the pair should do a manzai (stand up comedy) together. That was what eventually led to the formation of the The Two Beats manzai duo. Their stage names were Beat Takeshi and Beat Kiyoshi. They started out in strip joints and comedy theatres, then as they got more famous, moved on to larger halls. In 1976, they appeared on television for the first time and instantly became a social phenomenon. The reason was that the manzai that Takeshi spewed out was so different to the conventional manzai. His was much more risqu?.

The subjects of Takeshi's manzai were a variety of socially vulnerable people such as the elderly, children, the disabled, the poor, the ugly, the stupid, even women. He cracked one gag after another about them. There is a famous quote from his Two Beats days which goes, "Make sure to firmly wring your parents' necks before you go to bed." It was a parody of a safety slogan by the fire brigade which originally went, "Make sure to firmly turn off the gas before you go to bed." In Japan at that time, the average life expectancy had grown and elderly people had begun to dominate the population. Domestic problems arose in every household from having to take care of elderly parents who might be bedridden or approaching senility. And so the tension between wives and their parents-in-law also grew. There were actual cases where parents were strangled by their son and his wife because young couples were so exhausted from endless caring. There was one instance where a wife stabbed her mother-in-law. That explains why the television centre which aired the show was bombarded with phone calls from viewers offended by what they saw as tasteless gags. The complaints persuaded the station to ban Takeshi from doing certain jokes and to edit the footage and take out any offensive dialogue.

While the rest of society was enraged by the duo, the younger generation - mostly in their early twenties or younger - adored Takeshi's anti-social, anti-.humanitarian jokes, which is why The Two Beats became so popular. Consequently, some critics gave the show glowing views. They said things like, 'The Two Beats possess a high level of irony which discloses the true feeling of society, namely that the elderly are a burden'. Some even called Takeshi Japan's answer to Lenny Bruce.

The best-known Two Beats joke is a parody of a public transport safety slogan which goes, "Cross when the traffic lights are at red, like everyone else and you will be safe." Initially, that was attacked for encouraging children to break road safety rules. Eventually. however, people came to see it as poignant criticism of the collective psychology particular to the Japanese -i.e. 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em'. But was sharp-tongued social criticism really what Takeshi was aiming for? I think not. Lenny Bruce was another comedian who made a point of using racially discriminating words such as 'nigger', which were taboo in his time. His act was described as focusing the spotlight on discrimination which is hidden from public media and the surface of society, but which actually exists in the very depths of it'. But was that right?

When they were not dealing with discrimination, both Lenny and Takeshi joked about death and illness. The reason was that these subjects were not considered funny. Likewise, both men repeatedly used words like, 'dick', 'cunt', 'shit' and 'puke'. They chose these because they were words that most people thought should not be uttered in public, let alone broadcast to the nation. It's like being a child, when the more your parents tell you not to say certain words, the more you're tempted to shout them out loud. It's the same sort of childish urge that makes Takeshi want to say things he's not supposed to.

There was one sketch that Takeshi would persistently repeat which demonstrated the depth of his childishness. In it, he would call out, "Comaneci!", then make movements with his hands outlining a V-shape around his crotch. He first came up with this gag when he was talking about how erotic Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian Olympic gymnast, looked in her groin hugging leotard. Takeshi took up a half squatting pose and used his hands to portray this image, while at the same time shouting, "Comaneci!". This in itself was not at all funny, but for some reason, Takeshi seemed to like it so much that he took to doing it at every opportunity. Soon, his audience joined in with the joke, but it was partly because they were appalled with Takeshi for doing, as one critic said, "Something so ludicrous for someone his age (Takeshi was already in his thirties)." But that was precisely what Takeshi was aiming for, The intention of the Comaneci gag was to stop the public from seeing him as an arrogant man who used his intelligence to spray poison-tongued sarcasm. When he told the joke, Takeshi wasn't a sarcastic guy with brains, he was one of those lads in the classroom who is always being cheeky to the teachers and getting told off. Like Bart Simpson! That's why it was kids at kindergarten or at primary school who enjoyed the joke the most. They may not have understood Takeshi's manzai, but they got the Comaneci gag. They proved it by placing their hands on their groins and being told off by their parents and teachers.

Takeshi escaped from the convention of graduating from university to become what he called "a member of society". He turned his back on life as a 'sensible adult' and chose instead to keep on acting like a child. When he became a comedian, he was already in his thirties, but referred to himself as "Takechan", which is what a mother might call her child. He called his own mother "okaachan" (ma). Often, he would bring his mother's stories into his act, then repeat words like 'dick' and 'shit'. That showed that he was not a grown-up, but a big kid. His theory that "owarai is like a never ending move" can be interpreted as 'Keep being a cheeky, naughty child who plays pranks, then runs off'.

I once wrote that, "Takeshi's manzai is an expression of his childish urge to explode". In that sense, I think Takeshi's attitude was similar to the spirit of rock'n'roll - i.e. bollocks to adult common sense and sound judgment. Until The Two Beats came along, the elderly appreciated manzai. That changed when The Two Beats sent scores of junior high and high school students (including myself) into a frenzy. Soon. other so-called 'New Wave' manzai duos sprung tip and the 'manzai boom' was born. To young audiences, manzai was the equivalent of rock bands.

Technically-speaking, however, The Two Beats' manzai was not proper manzai. Takeshi had never been a big manzai fan, nor had he studied it or become an apprentice to a particular master. His manzai totally ignored the traditional roles of boke (fall guy) and tsukkomi (joke teller). In the conventional form of manzai, the tsukkomi introduces the subject. Then the boke follows with an obtuse answer, to which the tsukkomi responds with a phrase like 'Don't be stupid' and whacks the boke. Takeshi's manzai was different. It was almost a monologue. He would gibber on. speaking in speedy rhythms of speech reminiscent of his native Tokyo. He'd say things like, "How about a sex doll that awards scores at the end? After you've used it, it gives you technical points and artistic points". The problem was that Kiyoshi was too slow to come tip with a snappy response. Kiyoshi was from Tohoku, in the north of Japan, where the climate is more severe than in Tokyo. People from Tohoku tend to mumble their words, as they are used to opening their mouths as little as possible because of the cold. When Takeshi made one of his off-the-cuff comments, all Kiyoshi could manage to reply was, "What are you talking about?". There was never any decent conversation between them.

The manzai boom grew to the extent that a festival was organised at the Nippon Budokan, an indoor stadium where the likes of The Beatles and Deep Purple once played. By the time the eighties arrived, Takeshi had stopped making appearances as The Two Beats and started to perform solo. Consequently, he established himself away from the manzai boom, as well as from The Two Beats.

In 1981, Takeshi began hosting a radio show once a week. All Night Nippon was aired every night, starting at 1a.m., and the majority of its listeners were junior high or high school students, who were supposedly studying in their bedrooms. The show was based on postcards sent in from listeners, who had been given a topic to write about the previous week. The host would then read out the postcards and make comments on them. Takeshi's topics included, "How to recognise a person who pretends to be an ultra-trendy city slicker, but really comes from the countryside" and, "How to spot someone who is now middle-class, but grew up poor". One of his favorite themes was discrimination. His most popular, however, was "How to wank - the New Way." That one drove his adolescent audience wild. They used their imaginations to the full to come up with responses. One went, "First, go to a farm where they have lots of dairy cows. Take out the cow costume that you brought with you, then wear it with your dick sticking out of the nipple part. An innocent milkmaid, a look-a-like of Heidi of the Alps. heroine of the book by Joanna Spyri, will come along and give you a hand-job, thinking that she is just milking a cow." Others were even more outrageous. For example, "If you ever get the chance to go on a school trip to Kyoto or Nara and stay the night at a temple, try beating the mokugyo (a wooden block used for praying in Buddhist temples) in the middle of the night, when all the priests are sound asleep. Without waking up, a priest who is dedicated to his beliefs will start to mouth the lines of the scriptures. Then you appear on the scene - or rather your dick does. Into the priest's mouth you go, off to jerk heaven!" Or, "If you're masochistic, go to a studio where they are shooting the new series of Godzilla movies and hide under the floorboards of one of the miniature sets. Then stick your dick through a hole in the floor. When filming starts, Godzilla and Radon will mistake it for Mothra and begin biting and punching it. They may even breath fire on it."

Another part of Takeshi's show was called 'Adachi-warders welcome'. It was based on his own experience as a child growing up in Adachi-ward, east Tokyo. Takeshi would tell stories from his childhood and asked the listeners to send in their own childhood tales. One went, "There were a lot of craftsmen in downtown Tokyo and most of them had tattoos. I don't know whether they couldn't tolerate the pain or they didn't have enough money, but several just had the outlines done and the rest wasn't coloured in. Kids had no idea how scary these guys could be, so they would go up to them in public baths, point at their tattoos and say, 'You've got pictures on your back!' They usually ended up getting a good slap." Another was,"When we went to a fair, there were stalls where you could shoot targets or throw rings. The top prize would be something like an expensive camera. The bullets were made out of cork, but even if you hit the target, it was rigged so that it would never topple over." or, "We used to get firecrackers or 2Bs (like cherry bombs), then stick them up frogs arses and blow them up." Thus, Takeshi shared his childhood memories with his listeners. He referred to his young audience as 'omaera' (you lot), which was how a gang leader would address his followers. In doing so, he became closer to his listeners, who looked on him as their boss or an older brother living next door. Every week, at the start of his show, Takeshi would disclose personal secrets about himself He even talked freely of his extra-marital affairs and revealed embarrassing stories about people in his immediate family, including his wife and his parents. Once, he said, "The other day, when my wife was doing the laundry, she turned to me and said, 'You've been flirting again, haven't you?' I asked what made her say that and she replied, 'I know you took your underpants off somewhere. You wore them inside out and got shit on the outside of them'." When Takeshi talked about his 'soapland' girl (a bath house call girl), whom he visited regularly, he used her real name and the girl was swamped by fans who wanted to become 'soap' brothers with Takeshi. The poor girl disappeared shortly afterwards, claiming that her body couldn't keep up with the high demand.

Often, Takeshi revealed other people's embarrassing secrets on All Night Nippon without their consent. He talked about a fellow comedians' womanising. He also claimed that some handsome celebrities and sportsmen seen posing on TV couldn't actually read a simple chinese character which even a primary school student could understand arid said that, behind the scenes, many of them were disliked by their peers, although such things were traditionally kept under wraps. Takeshi somehow managed to gibber on about them without getting into trouble. He got away with it because his revelations had the nature of an innocent primary school kid who might boast in public that 'My dad wears a wig!'

After establishing himself as 'the big brother' of All Night Nippon's adolescent audience, Takeshi turned his attention to TV, appearing in a show called Oretachi Hyokinzoku (We Are Jokers) from the spring of '81. Launched as a Japanese version of Saturday Night Live, Oretachi Hyokinzoku centred on short comedy sketches. With that programme, Takeshi captured the hearts of primary school children. In it, he played a superhero called Takechanman. Each week, his character fought a villain known as Black Devil, played by fellow comedian Sanma Akashiya. The pair indulged in childish pranks such as competing to see who would be the first fall off the top of log bridges and slippery slopes (all props made in the studio). The loser fell into a pool of mud or flour - a hilarious sight. In this programme Takeshi made a point of excluding any manzai and of avoiding the type of talk that he used in his radio shows, instead concentrating solely on childish games and ideas. Little kids loved it and soon Takechanman became as popular as the Super Mario Brothers.

However, Takeshi is not the type of person to sit back and bask in public adulation. The more accepted he became, the more uncomfortable he felt. Years before, when he was an up-and-coming comedian, he often attacked comedians who had been radical and controversial in their youth, but had turned into inoffensive, household stars. He hated that they had abandoned the very asset that had brought them fame. "Comedians are supposed to make people laugh by doing things they're not allowed to do," he would say. "Once they start talking about family values and humanity, they're not comedians anymore." Such sell-out comedians were not exclusive to Japan. They could be also found in America - Bill Cosby was a perfect example. However, by this time, even Takeshi - who had always been seen as the epitome of anti-social behaviour - had started to develop a 'nice guy persona with the public. In '82, as a way of rebelling against this impression if him, he repeatedly flashed his genitals on live TV. It was a typical Takeshi stunt. He was 'the man who was never caught out'. At the same time, Takeshi proved himself to be a serious actor by appearing in the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. The story was set in World War II and Takeshi played the part of humane Sergeant Gengo Hara. He made audiences around the world cry at the final scene, in which he awkwardly mutters his very first English words, 'Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence'. With his next film role, he shattered his 'good guy' image, playing the part of Kiyoshi Okubo, the most despicable serial rapist murderer in Japanese history.

Meanwhile, Takeshi continued to make his regular appearances on midnight radio. Fans who regarded him as a big brother took to hanging around the radio station where he worked and were taken on as his apprentices. They called themselves Gundan (Takeshi's Army) and referred to their idol as 'Tono' (My Lord), the name samurai gave to their masters. Takeshi planned several programmes for his 'Army', the first of which he called Ganbaruman. Army members were given atrocious dares, such as competing to see who could stay the longest in a boiling hot bath or buried stark naked up to their necks in snow. They were also challenged to fight lions and cobras, as well as professional boxers. whose punches could knock them out. One accepted a dare to become an apprentice to a stuntman and drive headlong into an explosion. The public was outraged at Takeshi, who would just sit and watch his followers endure such horrors. They claimed that he was 'like the Emperor Nero, forcing his slaves to fight in the Colosseum'. They asked, 'What if someone dies?' To this, Takeshi replied tongue-in-cheek, "They say they'll do anything for me, so I'm testing them to see if they?re telling the truth." Then he stuck his tongue out.

Fuun! Takeshi jou (Hero Takeshi Castle) was a programme which took the idea of Ganbaruman one step further. In it, members of both Takeshi's army and his audience were invited to complete a series of obstacle courses, which led eventually to Takeshi Castle. The entertainment was purely physical and visual. Contestants had to do things like jump across squares of polystyrene floating on a cold lake, avoiding chunks of wood which were dropped on them from above. It was like a real life Super Mario Brothers game, which became hugely popular and was distributed to many overseas countries.

Ultra Owarai Quiz was a combination of the two shows mentioned above. Along with the Gundan, one-hit wonders, unpopular comedians and actors (all craving for a break into TV) gathered in a TV station car park to take part in a game which involved grabbing hold of a ball with "Atari' (You win) written on it. Any contestant who failed at this stage was sent home on the spot, without receiving any fee. Takeshi laughed his head off watching these poor 'celebrities' humiliate themselves. The ones who got through the first stage then had to get on a bus for a Magical Mystery Tour. They had to play games which involved things like answering questions while standing on top of a tall tower. If they gave a wrong answer, they were pushed off the tower, their feet tied to a rope like a bungee jump. Sometimes, they had to walk over ground with hidden landmines which would suddenly explode. Sonatine, the film directed by Takeshi in '93, was an extension of these bully-style shows. You can see it most clearly in the scene where Takeshi sets off fireworks aimed directly at his young brothers'. While critics complained that his shows were a bad influence because they encouraged bullying, Takehi began writing novels. Both Kids Return and Asakusa Kid were about his own childhood in downtown Tokyo, while Takeshi-kun Hail - a children's book which he also illustrated - was a nostalgic account of his early years. All three were highly acclaimed and Takeshi-kun, Hail, a bestseller, was even turned into a daily soap on national television Once again, Takeshi was disturbed by his success as people began to suspect that not only was he far cleverer than he made out, but that he was also a kind, gentle person at heart. Consequently, Takeshi went back on the rampage. In 1986, he broke into the editor?s office of weekly photo journal Friday and got arrested. The public was appalled by his behaviour. Takeshi attacked the journal because it published a picture of his lover. Questioned about the incident, he said, "I have talked openly about my own womanising because it is part of my life. But my lover is not a public figure. Her privacy should not be invaded."

Takeshi had decided to raid the office while out drinking with members of his Army. He realised that it was the anniversary of the raid of Chuushingura (when Kuranosuke Oishi led 47 ronin in an attack on the Kira mansion in revenge for his master). Takeshi's intention was to parody the historical incident. He and the Army broke into the office, spraying the place with a fire extinguisher, which just happened to be handy. Significantly, spraying a fire extinguisher is common place in Japanese slapstick comedy, much like pie throwing. However, the staff at the Friday office did not see the funny side of it, and Takeshi and his Army were arrested on charges of intrusion and assault.

Some people criticised Takeshi for trying to dismiss the incident as a joke, but most of the general public stood up for him. They supported him not because he was famous or talented, but because he would not take a conventional, 'adult' attitude towards the paparazzi. Instead, he resorted to childish tactics, which were consistent with his character. That year, while the incident was still fresh in people's minds, Takeshi was ranked in the Top Five of an annual national survey of 'Most Likeable Celebrities'.

When I first heard about Howard Stern, a Shock Jock in New York, I was surprised at how similar he and Takeshi were. Although Stern is 190cm tall and Takeshi a little short of 170cm, both achieved cult popularity by using vulgar, radical language on radio. Both have also published best-selling autobiographies. Fartman, the alter ego of Howard Stern, is identical to Takechanman. Stern directed his own movie Private Fads, and Takeshi Violent Cop. The similarities end here, however, because while Private Parts was a heart-warning comedy which gave the public the impression that Stern might actually be a 'nice guy', Violent Cop was a cold-blooded, very violent piece of work. Takeshi may well have made such a movie to turn the general public off holding him in high esteem.

The violence in Violent Cop was unlike anything most movie-goers had ever seen. In the film, the violence occurs suddenly, when the audience is least expecting it. In commercial films, violent scenes tend to be preceded by certain camera angles and dramatic music. In Takeshi's work, shots are fired out of the blue and death can occur at any time. No matter how disturbing the action, the images are calmly shot, which somehow makes the scene seem even more shocking. Takeshi's style of unassuming violence is similar to the scene in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) where Joe Pesci suddenly fires his gun in the middle of a poker game, or the scene in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1991) when Chris Penn shoots the shackled cop. In another Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction, the same type of direction is employed when Samuel L. Jackson shoots a young man making excuses for stealing his boss' money. Takeshi, however, began using the method before either of them.

In my opinion, the bluntness of the violent scenes in Takeshi's films are influenced by Jean-Luc Godard. For example, in Vivre Sa Vie (It's My Life) (1962), the heroine, Anna Karma, is shot mercilessly in the final scene. The off-beat gun raid in Godard's Alphaville was also an influence on Takeshi. He is said to have seen French New Wave films in art cinemas in the five years after he dropped out of university and was living a bohemian lifestyle. Indeed, Takeshi once wrote in the magazine Weekly Post, "You cannot understand my movies unless you are familiar with the work of Godard". Furthermore, the working title of his film Sonatine (1993) was Okinawa Pierrot, a play on Godard's film title Pierrot Le Fou (1965), and the story was adapted to the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa. Godard's attempt to deconstruct the system of film-making undoubtedly appealed to Takeshi, whose motto was "Keep on running, never get caught out" and who went out of his way to reject common sense and conventional ideas.

It is important to add that the violence in Takeshi's films is invariably accompanied by a wicked sense of humour. In Violent Cop. cinema audiences laughed after seeing an emotionless Takeshi blast his guns. Such violence combined with humour can also be seen in the killing scenes of Scorsese films starring Joe Pesci or in Tarantino films with Samuel L. Jackson. The fact that both Pesci and Jackson are excellent live comedians is another link to Takeshi. In short, the violence in Takeshi's movies can be viewed as simply an extension of his comedies.

For Violent Cop, Takeshi was highly-acclaimed as a director and won many prizes. He turned up to the Japanese Academy Awards wearing a Geisha outfit, which took away from the seriousness of the occasion. The more he became acknowledged as a writer and director, the more he appeared on television in fancy dress - often as a woman, a day labourer or a gorilla. It was as if to say, "I'm not the grand person you think I am".

In 1994, Takeshi was involved in an accident while riding his motorbike. The crash left his face damaged - one side of it remains paralysed to this day. The previous year, Takeshi had directed Sonatine, in which a middle-aged yakuza commits suicide after suffering existentialist agony. Takeshi himself had often spoken of his suicidal tendencies, so journalists quickly jumped to the conclusion that the incident was an attempt by Takeshi to take his own life. He did not deny the rumours. He simply said, "That incident was not suicide, but I do think a lot about dying these days." Why did Takeshi make such references to death? Perhaps because the public has got used to his outrageous antics and now takes whatever he does for granted. He can use as many controversial words as he likes, expose his genitals on TV. be convicted of violence or make blood-thirsty films, but the public can no longer be shocked by him. As a man who has to 'keep on running', the only means of escape left for Takeshi could be death.

The film that he was making at the time of his accident was his first ever slapstick comedy. Getting Any? It was eventually released in 1995 after Takeshi had been discharged from hospital. It starred Dankan a member of the Takeshi Army -as a dull man who had never gone out with a woman. He tries everything under the sun to find someone to have sex with. The film was full of jokes about penises and shit, very vulgar and childish from beginning to end. Takeshi directed it under his stage name as a comedian, 'Heat Takeshi', no doubt to escape his reputation as Takeshi Kitano, the gifted director. I wonder what foreign critics, who had praised his previous films, thought of Getting Any? It may have been a vulgar movie, but this was the real Takeshi, the one that the Japanese knew and loved, both from television and from the radio.

By Tomohiro Machiyama (from the book "Beat Takeshi Kitano" Tadao Press Publications 1999, page 105-113). All rights are reserved by Tomohiro Machiyama, Tadao Press Publications and RM Europe Ltd. The article is reproduced by Kitanotakeshi.com.