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My first experience with Taksehi Kitano (aka Beat Takeshi) as director as well as lead actor, and I say file away under first class WTF right next to Funky Forest and Night Dreams (review forthcomming).My first experience with Kitano was the disquiet ting almost sympathetic teacher in "Battle Royale", but I knew right away he was an actor worth looking into, and I'm usually not very interested specific in actors. The beginning when Kitano and his matching dummy (who trade places throughout the film, whenever Kitano feels pressured or uncomfortable) think of new films to make Kitano a success.
They try gangster movies, because they are what Kitano is best at, but he has done too many of them and wants to get away from being typecast. Then they try a "traditionally Japanese Ozu like film- the kind Wim Wenders would like", but it too falls through "who wants to waste a half hour on drinking liquor and tea?" Stories about the "common folk" aren't common anymore, and the black and white is now just alienating. They go through a few romances first where a woman is devoted to a man who is usually an artist or in some way disabled and these are called romantic comedies. Then they decide this is sexist so they try films where a man is devoted to a woman, and they call these tragedies. Martial arts period films and horror films get their turns as well, since both do well in foreign markets and might even get remade, but horror gives way to comedy, and neither make nearly enough at the box office.
All of these failures are visually punctuated by the suicide/murders of the Kitano shaped doll.Then providence strikes and Kitano knows what to do, he will make a big budget CGI sci-fi spectacle about meteors racing to earth, only the meteors will have faces and are supposed to become major characters in the film. After that reason abandons ship altogether and the last 45 minutes to an hour are the worlds longest Monty Python sketch involving Kitano as the assistant to a mad scientist/industrialist, and a mother and daughter trying to make cash the easy way, by putting roaches in their food at restaurants, getting hit by cars, and finally marrying Kitano. Trips to France, pro-wrestlers, villagers hopping like bunnies, robots, and generally inexplicable events follow one after the other until the credits.
In Godard like fashion even the characters seem out of place in this slapdash world, asking about why certain earlier strange things happened, at which point Kitano transforms into the wooden doll version of himself (if only we could all do this to get out of tough questions.)I laughed a few times, mostly out of surprise, but sometimes out of exhaustion. There's an early scene where Kitano tries to make a drama about the 50's, but fails once he realizes Japan in the 50's was the wrong place at the right time.
The nostalgic and innocent decade of American pop, was there a time of "discrimination, poverty, and domestic abuse". It was also when Kitano grew up, moments which begin with promise of sentiment or catharsis segue into reminders of social horror at every turn.I don't think he necessarily intended this scene to be the "heart" of the film, and not just another spoof scenario, but it goes longer than most of the others, and after seeing it, and the conceptual loops, dead ends, and false starts. The film maker goes through for sake of "glory" it's easy to understand how it might be tempting to just turn into a block of wood, and let your Id make the decisions (the caricature is at least indestructible).
Easier but not necessarily always entertaining to watch. Kitano did in fairness get his start as a stand-up comedian in the Manzai style (think fast past Abbot and Costello back and forth banter, which in Japan goes back to the 700's.), and many sequences like the martial arts instructor and his master, or the exploits of the strange stuffed animal ladies do take on the format of a Manzai routine. With a little cultural perspective the madness does have a method.Though considering the great ode to artistic impotence "8 1/2" has now become a star studded Hollywood musical in "Nine", it's easy to understand Kitano's frustrations with the cinematic redundancy and the bastardized genre permutations that they spawn.
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