This talkshow took place Friday the 23rd January at 5pm at IFFR. In front
of a cheering audience, Tony Rayns talked with Kitano Takeshi and showed videos
(some old clips from "Kitano Castle" and the music video his daughter Kitano
Shoko), while sharing a bottle of expensive Grand Cru wine. This is a edited
transcription of the Talkshow.
Tony Rayns: I brought a couple of small things on video. One is a examble
of Mr. Kitano?s TC work, not familiar to most western audiences. After it, I
will show you (adressing the audience) his first music video, which is another
one of Kitano?s works you havn?t had a chance to see.
I think we should start by talking about "Zatoichi". I heard that the idea
to make the film wasn?t yours, but the idea of a lady called Madam Saito. Could
you explain a little about this?
Kitano Takeshi: There are many interesting people in Japan. One of the most
famous of them is Yakuza and I do not say that Madam Saito is Yakuza; she is
not. She manages many theatres, like striptease theatres, hostess bars, where
the ladies offer small services. She is a lady, who has had a very strong
influence on entertainment history thruout Japan. While Mr. Katsu Shintaro was
alive, she was his patron and a very close friend. She was a financial supporter
of Mr. Katsu?s activities and she borrowed him tons of money, about $30 million.
After his death, her interest became directed towards me. She called me and
said:"It had been a while since Katsu passed away and I believe you should make
a new Zatoichi". I politely declined her offer, but she looked so intimidating.
So I was forced to say, "Yes".
Mr. Katsu made more than twenty "Zatoichi" movies and the image of
Zatoichi is completely associated with him. I said to myself, I have to make
something different. So I told Madam Saito, that I wasn?t interested in making
another, the same, "Zatoichi". I will call the film "Zatoichi" and
it will be a period film and the main character will be a blind masseur and a
master with the sword. But everything else will be entirely my creation. Is that
ok? She said yes. So I began preproduction with my producer.
Madam Saito is one of the most influential persons in Japan. She is a kind
person, who neither is afraid of police nor yakuza.
Tony Rayns: I am very curious about exactly what kind of pressure she put
on you to make you work?
Kitano: The guy next to her didn?t have all his fingers!
Rayns: Zatoichi has several characteristics. One of them is that he is
blind. How difficult was it to play a blind man?
Kitano: When I normally act, with my eyes open, I usually look at my crew
members, like the lighting director, the production designer, and the sound guy
and so on. I have been working with the same group of people for many years, who
are called "Kitano Gumi" (The Kitano film clew). These guys are no social and
when an actor acts badly, they make discontent faces. When I act with my eyes
closed, I don?t have to see their faces. That was the good part. That is also
the reason why the actors in my films are so nervous. These clew guys are cruel
On the other hand, I am not the sort of actor who can memorize my lines. So I
usually ask the assistant director to hold up huge pieces of paper, on which all
my lines are written. Even during takes I can sneak a peek and look at my lines
and I don?t have to memorize them. With my eyes closed, I had a hard time using
Rayns: I think Marlon Brando did same thing.
Kitano: Many years ago, I used the technique while shooting some movie, and I
could not read some difficult Chinese character. That was embarrassing
Rayns: Other characteristic of Zatoichi is that he is a master of sword
fighting. Are you a fantastic sword fighter?
Kitano: I did sword fighting before, but this was the first time that I had
to do it with back hand style. It was the way Zatoichi held his sword. Usually
Samurais held their swords with forward handing and back handing style was
typically found with Ninjas. Back handing is very physically straining. I had to
hold my sword very upward to be able to strike down. It strained my musles. The
movement is very similar to the movement of the pitcher in a cricket game. So I
practised this movement all the time. I even practiced in my car and frequently
hit my driver.
Rayns: As you are doing back handing sword play as a blind man, it must be
quite difficult to judge where to swing the sword and how far you can swing it,
how to avoid serious damage to your following actors. Was that a
Kitano: When you make "Chambara" in Japan, you usualy take some bad guys, get
then into a swordfight where they hit eachothers swords, kill them and do it
over and over again. However, I wanted my bad guys to be specific individual
characters. So when rehearsing a specific scene, we called each actor, who would
appear in the scene, in. We had choegraphed each movement precisely and we would
practise it so many times, that we could do them with our eyes closed. And
still, duting one rehearsal, the sword of one of my opponants nearly hit my
eyes, it was stopped by my nose. I almost became blind myself during rehearsal.
When I then shot the scene, I had to do it faster than during the rehearsal. It
was hard, but we eventually managed to get it done.
Rayns: The other night you mentioned that the musical scene in
"Zatoichi" came from Japanese period movies, especially Samurai movies.
Could you tell more about this and your enthusiasm toward tap dancing? Does it
go back to the days before you did TV work, or for that matter movies, when you
were working at vandeville?
Kitano: I come from Asakusa, an eastern part of Tokyo, and the city used to
have a very big comedian scene. That was where I trained as stagge comedian. As
a stage comedian, in those days, you had to practise three things, which are
playing musical instruments, dancing and sword fighting, in order to do comedy.
I am often labeled as the last Asakusa comedian, because those who came after me
didn?t have to learn these three elements. I am the last generation of the
traditional Asakusa comedian. Back then I studied tap dancing for three years.
The style I learned was "white" style, typically seen in movies with Fred
Astaire or Gene Kelly. Some years later, I came across the "afro american" style
of tap dancing, like you see by Gregory Hines and Grover, and it was a totally
different form of tap dancing. My interest for tap grew again and at the same
time, I got acquaited with a group of dancers called "Stripes", whom I would
work with on "Zatoich". As I mentioned the other night, in
"Zatoichi", I always wanted to end the movie with a festival scene.
Especially, I wanted to do my version of takatsuki dancing, known from Kabuki
theatre, which is a form of tap dancing with wooden clogs. Today, very few know
about, and fewer can dance, this form of dancing. I got the idea from the wooden
clogs. But while writing the script, I realised, that it would too sudden, if I
just used it in the festival scene at the end. So I came up with scenes, like
the rainy rice field scene, like the house construction scene, where I
introduced the audience to the rhythm and the tap, so that the audience would be
prepared and would anticipate what came at the end.
Rayns: Many people know that you also are very famous on TV in Japan. You
do TV shows almost every night and have done so for years and years. Do you
think these jokes are typical for your work on TV? (Tony Rays is refering to a
just shown sketch from "Kitano Castle", where Kitano imitated Zatoichi and made
fun of him (Kitano: Zatoichi is blind, thus he has no idea what he does) ?
Kitano: That was just one example of the sort of TV shows I make. I still do
this sort of slapstick comedy show. But I also have a debate program, where I
invite politicians and leaders, and debate current issues of either domestic or
international political or social issues. I also have a science show, where we
study things like the DNA structure and so on. Then, I have an art program,
where I examine the works of van Gogh or Picasso. In the same show, we also have
an artist competetion, where professional or amateur artists present their works
and we give them a prize. Sometime we use that section of the show to show a
short film. We do anything related to art. I am doing a lot of different shows
Rayns: Are they all funny or are some of them serious?
Kitano: My role in these shows is to turn everything serious into comedy by
making offensive comments to the politician or the artist. I am a clown. Many
politicians first agreed to be on my show, but then later would complain about
my inappropriate comments.
Rayns: But they would have to know your shows and what you do on
Kitano: For many politicians, appearing on my show is good for their
election, so they cannot resist.
Rayns: You still do quite a lot of TV shows, maybe not as many as ten
years ago, but still a lot. Has your attitude to the TV staff changed since you
became film director?
Kitano: Ten years ago I was doing eight TV shows a week, now I only do seven.
But in Japan I am still a far bigger TV name than filmmaker. So in Japan, if
someone adress me with "Mr. Director", I will become nervous and think, "Whom is
he talking to (and about)?"
Rayns: Do those TV shows take much preparation? Do you have to think a lot
Kitano: When planning or preparing a new program, I participate from the very
start, by giving the producers a rough and cluetial concept of the show. When I
work with the preproduction of a TV show, I present the producers with what I am
interested in at the present moment. For instance, since I now am in the
Netherlands, I would ask them, "Why don?t we do a show about the Netherlands?"
and I begin to do research on the history between Netherlands and Japan, like
Dr. Seybold, or the famous Judoka Anton Heasin and so on. I come up with the
initial idea and give it to them.
Rayns: What happens to your TV shows, when you take time off, to go to
festivals or when making a new film?
Kitano: Let me tell you about my weekly schedule. My driver picks me up
around 12:30 and we arrive at the TV studio around 1pm. Then we have a meeting
for an hour, where we discuss things, and start recording around 2am. Usually we
record two episode er day, one for the following week and another for the week
after that. Recording takes about four hours, so I able to get out of the studio
by 6 or 7pm. Then I go to my rehearsal studio, where I practice piano or tap
dancin. After a couple of hours of that, it is time for drinks and girls. But
the girls don?t care about me and dump me, so I go home alone. The following
week, I work on none TV work, like film, acting, writing, going film festivals
and so on.
Rayns: You have a daughter and a few years ago, she decided to become a
siner. So you made her music video.
Kitano: I am not sure if she is my actual daughter. Because I only had one...
you know. (laughs)
Rayns: Didn?t you have DNA test?
Kitano: I am too scared to get the test taken. (laughs)
Rayns: Anyway, this young lady, whos name is Shoko, decided to be a
singer. She made two singles, but then gave up.
Kitano: After the two singles were released and failed to do well, she told
me, "The Japanese public have no taste and they don?t get my music. I am going
to Los Angeles, where I can find my own audience." She then flew to LA and then
suddenly she decided to become a lawyer. She came back to Tokyo and is now
working for some lawfirm while studying law. Her plan, right now, is, to become
a licensed lawyer in Japan, then go back to the USA and study law to become an
international lawyer. She says, that she then will be able to help me, when I
Rayns: I heard different version of the story. I heard that she wanted to
become lawyer, so that she could prosecute you.
Kitano: Possibly. (laughs)
Questions from the audience
Q1: In what periode does "Zatoichi" take place?
Kitano: The story is set at the end of the Edo perio, when Tokugawa was
shogun. He was so from around 1600 to 1868, so "Zatoichi" takes place around
1850 or so. Im not sure.
Rayns: If you check Japanese history books, the period is also known as
the "Tap Dancing Restoration". (laughs)
Q2: I have a question in two parts. The other day you commented on "Kill
Bill". Is that because of the poor fighting techniques or because of an American
imitation of a Japanese movie? (During the opening of "Zatoichi", Kitano said,
"There are two samurai films out there, Kill Bill and Zatoichi, but only
Zatoichi is the real thing" - editor)
Kitano: Since I heard that Tarantino would shoot a pastiche on Chambara
movies called "Kill Bill", I had certain expectations to what he would do. My
expectations were, that he would do very preposterous thins, which would be
laughable to a Japanese audience. After I then saw it, the extend of
preposterous things he was doing in the movie, was way beyond my expectations.
At the end of the film, I began to respect and admire his willingness to go that
far. I have to say, that I really enjoyed the movie.
Q3: Is there any connection between your version of Chambara and
Kurosawa?s work, particular "Ran"?
Kitano: Actually, I worked with Kurosawa?s daughter on this movie. Her name
is Kazuko Kurosawa and she worked as costume designer on this movie. When we
were shooting the sword fighting scene in the rain, she stood behind me, so I
told her, "What do you think? This scene is my homage to your father, it is
"Seven Samurai" Kitano style. What do you think?" She said, "No way". Some days
later, we were shooting the scene, in which a half naked farmer boy wearing
Samurai armor was runnin around screaming. During the rehearsal, I told her,
"This is my homage to "Dodesukaden", what do you think?" She just looked at me
and said, "No. I don?t think so. It is nothing like that at all". So his family
member has said that it is not a tribute of any kind.
The way I used blood and chambara in this movie is more influenced by Manga.
Not a specific Manga, but I used the ideosyncratical way of presenting sword
fighting, which we only can find in Manga. For example, sudden transitions from
a wide long shot to the extreme close up, or the visibility of the blood on
screen. Japanese Manga associations selected "Zatoichi" as best film of the year
2003. The cartoonists really respect my "Zatoichi"; probably they think I
made a Manga film.
Q4: I would like to ask you about your paintings. Are there any plans for
your paintings to come to Europe?
Rayns: I would like to mention, that Mr. Kitano brouht one of his
paintings as a gift to Simon Field, the director of the festival. He painted a
painting especially for Simon, as a thank you and fair well gesture. (Simon
Field stepped down as director of IFFR and was one of the first Europeans to
recognize Kitano and activily participated in bringing him out in Europe -
Kitano: The reason why I brought a painting was, because this guy (Tony
Rayns) and Simon were the first people in Europe, who had the courage to show my
movies to a European audience. So when I heard, that this would be the last
festival for Simon as director, I said, "Ok, I will go to Rotterdam with my
Zatoichi." I wanted to give him something he physically can have. Of course I
could afford to buy him some expensive wristwatch, but I thought that it would
not be good enough, so I spend three nights without sleep painting him a
painting. During the process, I made a typo. I missed the "n" in "Thank You" on
the paintin, so I had to add the "n" later. I thought it would be more memorable
for him than giving him something one can buy. (The painting is a roll of 35mm
film, where each frame is a portrait of Simon Field and where his eyebrowns grow
larger for each frame - editor).
About my paintings, I tend to give them away to my acquaintances. I have a
few stored, but most of them are already given away. If I were to try to have an
exhibition, I would have to find all my paitings and that would be difficult.
The reason why I never have sold any of my paintings is, that I still don?t
consider myself a painter, so I just give them away.
Q5: You mentioned that you don?t like CGI. Could you explain the
difference between CGI and special effect?
Kitano: Film as a media is an amazing thin, despite of all the advancements
in hard disc recording or CGI. Right now a TV has 1500 or 2000 dots on the
screen, but that is nothing next to the capability of film. Watching something
on film is hundred times better than watching it on a monitor. Personally I
think that CGI should be the last result, not just to the film maker, but also
to the actor. In "Zatoichi", I tried to shoot the scene where I have to shead my
sword into the cane with my eyes closed. I tried countless times, but could not
succeed, so I finally decided to use CGI for the scene. To try manually until
the very end and then to concider CGI is an attitude in my filmmaking.
Rayns: Is there any plan to make musical film or Science Fiction?
Kitano: I don?t think I ever make a full on musical, but my film could be
one, where the audience would say "Wasn?t it a kind of musical, wasn?t it?"
after watching it. About Science Fiction, it is not something that is
interesting to me. There are so many contradictions in it.
Since I am drunk, I am going to tell you this. Last night, I talked with Mr.
Rayns and he mentioned something about the difficulty of becoming a filmmaker in
Europe that those who want to become a director has to step up the ladder, one
by one, like workin for some advertising agency or whatever. This (Europe) is a
place, where you have very passionate followers of cinema and fans, something I
feel most every time I come to Europe. What is the European film industry doing?
Help these people! If I had enormous amounts of money, I would build my house
into a palace, where film makers from all over the world could come and stay and
learn to make movies for free.