Genre: Introspective Deconstruction
review in one breath
In his latest film, director/actor Kitano "Beat" Takeshi literally deconstructs himself in a simultaneously sad and bizarre spiral of reality, dream and dark possibility. Due to an almost chaotic dissonance, this film will certainly not appeal to everyone, but for those who are familiar with Kitano's history and willing to absorb his introspective imagination, this comes across quite powerfully.
Kitano Takeshi (aka Beat Takeshi) is a name widely known in the West for his acting and directorial work in a myriad of highly recognizable films. In Japan, however, he is nearly omnipresent in the media and for decades has hosted weekly shows on television ranging from hilarious prankster antics to serious discussions of contemporary issues. Personally speaking, one of his most impressive TV series, which I believe still airs, involves a panel discussion led by Kitano. Joining him are a few articulate Japanese from various fields of art or science and approximately twenty Japanese-speaking foreigners of various nationalities currently living in Japan. In what often becomes very heartfelt debate, Japanese cultural and societal issues are unpacked and compared with other cultures' perspectives. Though often humorous through Kitano's characteristic handling of things, the result of these discussions is nothing short of enlightening.
Apart from his acting, directing and TV appearances, Kitano holds tremendous influence in the entertainment business, including the fate of singers and dancers in both traditional and pop-culture venues. He is a professor at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and heads his own film and media production company.
This background is important in understanding Takeshis', the film under review here. Those unfamiliar with the degree of his fame and influence in Japan will likely find little traction in what will undoubtedly appear to be an incoherent fiction. But much of the fodder for Takeshi's deconstruction is actually autobiographical, including the use of a star-studded cast with whom he has had (in real life) historical and sometimes rocky relationships in the past. Thus one side of this film nearly amounts to a dramatized documentary filled with cameos of highly famous individuals and their feelings/deference toward each other.
The antithetical side of the narrative, however, is a disturbing fiction through which director Kitano imagines an alternate personal history devoid of all the fame and advantages he currently holds. It is through the interplay and ultimate clash of this reality and it's antithesis that Kitano deconstructs himself in a rather profound and often confusing manner.
In discussing this film, Kitano has said that he wanted to create a film which audiences could not analyze. He requests that viewers not approach the film with categories of "good" and "bad" (film), but rather to simply experience his production. And this seems like pretty good advice, since many professional critics who viewed the film looking for coherence or stylistic qualities generally heaped derision on Takeshis'. Some, however, looked more at the project and its attempt at deconstruction. And deconstruction is precisely that. It is a deconstruction of norms and assumptions, and thus inevitably leads to ultimate confusion and negation from which (theoretically) a new reality emerges. And in this regard, Kitano has said that he views Takeshis' as the end of an important chapter in his career. What he means by that, only he and the future can tell.
Just to be thorough, let me mention the following. This notion of "end" or "deconstruction" expressed by Kitano has led to some discussion that there is a hidden element of "death", and in particular suicide, in this film.
In 1994 Kitano was in a horrific motorcycle accident which left him paralyzed on one side of his face and body (which now gives him his characteristic and courageously defiant twitch). He later described the accident as a suicide attempt. Some have speculated that this film is a "second suicide", though this time of an artistic nature. Though this would, of course, add quite a deep philosophical nuance to the film (and thus is appealing to analysis-prone critics) Kitano has never portrayed this film as such.
This view seems to stem from a non-Japanese critic's lack of clarity on the Japanese language. I've read a prominent critic's review which claims that the title "Takeshis'" (pronounced in Japanese as ta-ke-shi-zu) can be etymologically divided into "Takeshi" (Kitano's name) and "Shizu", which according to the critic has some reference to death or dying. It is true that "Shi" can mean death, but the verb form is "Shinu" (to die) not "Shizu" (which is not itself a meaningful word in the Japanese language -- nor is "Shisu"). And according to my dictionary, in addition to death, the pronunciated word "shi" can also mean "septillion/quadrillion", "7th note in the tonic solfa representation of the diatonic scale" (like I know what the hell that is!?), or simply the number 4.
Thus there seems as much linguistic justification for claiming the title implies "a quadrillion Takeshis" (which doesn't leave much room for the rest of us) as "Takeshi Dies (again)". So I personally recommend you not buy into the "death" interpretation currently going around.
Its just another routine day for media powerhouse Kitano Takeshi as he is chauffeured from set to set in order to finish this or that scene in an upcoming movie. In between sets, it is readily apparent that everyone diligently defers to his every word. If he mentions he is warm, the room temperature and lighting is immediately adjusted. If he casually notes that someone is talking loudly, they are quickly yelled at and reprimanded. When his (very nice, btw) car is cruising through the parking garage, other vehicles yield the right of way (all except for mega-mama drag-queen Akihiro Miwa -- the Black Lizard!! -- in a rare film cameo appearance!)
Prior to another shoot, Takeshi runs into a former, and far less successful, acquaintance (Terajima Sususmu) who introduces him to a part-time actor seeking an autograph. The lowly actor bears a striking resemblance to Takeshi and has apparently also taken the stage name of "Kitano". The worlds and demeanor of these two Takeshis are vastly different and after the autograph signing, their paths take them in opposite paths. Their seemingly mundane encounter, however, will set off a chain reaction of both reality and delusion which ultimately leads to one final encounter.
I watched this about one week ago and have been thinking about it since. And the more I contemplate it, the more respect I have for this film and for Kitano Takeshi personally. The film is obviously and intentionally abstract and obtuse, and has been described by Kitano himself in terms of cubism. But just as in cubism or impressionism, the chaotic and seemingly random order of details in this film can reveal an often realistic and meaningful whole once the viewer is willing to take several steps back and view the entirety is a single glance.
What I see and understand here is a confrontation of the original unassuming yet aspiring Takeshi with the monolith (whether real or mere persona) he has become. On the one hand, in the depictions of the lowly Takeshi, he is tapping into his personal self-identity. On the other hand, through the mega-star Takeshi, he is portraying himself in ways which he believes others (and perhaps he) has come to see himself.
This film contains director Kitano Takeshi's rather confessional (and therapeutic?) battle and outcome between these two inherent and very real identities within himself. I won't spoil the rather profound conclusion. You'll have to see that for yourself.
Version reviewed: Region 2 subtitled DVD.
|Director Kitano's autobiographical deconstruction.||Plenty of over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek violence (predominantly either in film shoots or dream sequences).||Briefly Bouncing bOObies.||I really liked this one for its confusingly contemplative and ultimately revealing narrative.|