Written by: John White on May 7th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 2005
Writer/Editor/Director: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Kotomi Kyono, Ren Ohsug, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terashima,
DVD released: 7th April 2006
Approximate running time: 107 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo/5.1
DVD Release: Emotion
Region Coding: Region 2 NTSC
Retail Price: $39.99
Beat Takeshi, the famous actor is recording a number of projects and comes across an extra who looks awfully like him. Beat imagines what the doppelgangers life must be like. First as a convenience store clerk, then as a taxi driver and finally as an empowered Yakuza with sports car. Beat also imagines himself as a Japanese soldier about to be killed by a US soldier in WWII. Meanwhile the world of hangers on, stalkers, professional jealousy, Mah Jong games and critics interweaves itself amongst these thoughts.
Reading out a list of Takeshi Kitano’s accomplishments is a very discouraging experience for anyone. Kitano is or has carried out the following roles to serious success – stand-up comic, tv presenter, columnist, novelist, actor, editor, producer and film director. In the final role, Kitano has reached great heights in recent years. The immensely successful re-imagining of Zatoichi, the ruminative Bunraku play made flesh in Dolls, the reminiscence of his father in Kikujiro and the truly transcendent rogue cop film Hana Bi.
Takeshis is another dramatic change of direction. A willful exploration of celebrity and the “road not taken”, Takeshis is equal parts fever dream, satire and existential doodle. In it Kitano considers what his world would be like if he had struggled as an extra, as a convenience store clerk, a taxi driver or a Yakuza. He also merges these worlds with the stalkers, hangers on and obsessional fans of the world of Beat Takeshi. Consequently, Takeshi the convenience store clerk has an impossible customer come critic, an obsessional gay fan and dying yakuza popping in during his shift. Taxi Driver Takeshi is hounded by eager parents advocating their child prodigies and chubby double acts too heavy for the cab. Yakuza Takeshi is attacked in the club by other Yakuza helped by the critic.
In this messed up world of reverie, Takeshi is not safe whatever he does! This series of dreams, nightmares and wishes is entertaining enough and if the film has a spiritual heir it is Fellini’s Eight and a Half. Where Fellini looked at the act of creation and making a movie Kitano looks at the division between films and reality. The character Beat Takeshi is an unflattering portrayal and probably as far from the real Kitano as any of the other Takeshis here but that artificiality is the common thread of this film. Movies and the dreams they portray are not real. So we see the actor Takeshi in false sets, we see endless auditions and the acting represented in the real world of the other Takeshis to simply emphasize the lack of reality further.
It is tempting to read Takeshis as autobiographical but I think his movie hides as much as it reveals. Beat Takeshi is not Takeshi Kitano anymore than Taxi Takeshi, Convenience Takeshi or Yakuza Takeshi. The deliberate use of regular Kitano contributors Ren Osugi and Susumu Terashima as both actors – “we started out together and now I have to call him Mr Takeshi” – and real life friends is played with. In the end Kitano seems to be saying that all this trying to discover the real Takeshi is pointless – a kind of World Shut Your Mouth comment. This though leaves the film strangely unresolved and a little snooty about it’s audience when soldier Takeshi is shot dead the audience looks down the barrel of the gun not simply Kitano.
Takeshis is impossible to digest in one sitting and seems to be deliberately difficult. The short message here is that being Takeshi Kitano is difficult because people project their dreams and want to know who you are rather than that you are just acting. Takeshis is a brave doodle but not entirely successful, it feels malformed and full of nothing. This maybe the point that Kitano is deliberately misinforming people to put them off, it may also be that he doesn’t know how to resolve these identities and it may be that he shouldn’t try.
Takeshis is entertaining but overreaching. It resembles a large practical joke on it’s audience as we finally see that Takeshi is just a clown. This is clearly not true and that deliberate untruth is rather self-destructive.
Emotion’s R2 disc is a little bit disappointing. For such a new film the print is awfully thin and the transfer is a bit grainy. It is sharp and the colour and contrast seem good. The English subtitles are very reliable but only exist on the movie. The sound comes in a good 5.1 or fine stereo but where is the DTS track?
The extras include a music video, interview, long and short trailers. None of these extras is subtitled.
Takeshis is very personal but seems to be about keeping the world out rather than letting it in. It’s style and creativity are obvious as is the care involved but essentially it is an attempt to redefine and confound, to play with what the world thinks and make it pointless. It feels dark and tired but it is terrifically interesting. Not a masterpiece but a challenging work and one of the best films of the year. This package is ok but better ones will come and I advise Kitano loyalists to wait, others are unlikely to celebrate this film.