‘He’s taking me to my mother.’
Kikujiro is another of Takeshi Kitano’s films that moves away from the primary theme of cop/yakuza that had been so popular internationally. Films such as Getting Any?(1995) and A Scene At The Sea (1991) received minimal distribution and this was beginning to frustrate him, despite the huge awards and acclaim for the classic Hana-Bi (1997). ‘After Hana-Bi, I couldn’t help feeling my films were being stereotyped ‘gangster,violence, life and death.’ I found it had become difficult to identify myself with them,’ he noted. Kikujiro offers more of the Takeshi that swamps the screen with ludicrous fun and punchlines that often place an emphasis on the punch, recalling his manzai (Japanese comedy) days in its implementation of what is basically a surreal but sweet road movie. Yes, there are scenes of violence and yakuza links (Takeshi’s character foolishly boasts family ties to a gang with a resulting beating and the huge tattoo on his back reveals the past he thinks he had) and his characterisation exudes stupid bravura but these are just comic asides to the thrust of the film, which is an absurdist comedy where issues and emotions clash with bizarre events and strange encounters.
Young Masao’s (Yusuke Sekiguchi) summer vacation is approaching and he is at a bit of a loose end. He lives with his grandmother (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) and, on discovering a photograph of him as a child with his mother, he decides to find her. His mother apparently lives in Toyohashi, a long way away. His grandmother’s neighbours discover the boy attempting the journey alone, so the wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) suggests that her husband (Takeshi) accompanies him. She’ll enjoy a break from the lazy, self-centred but amusing alleged ex-yakuza anyhow. The journey will be long and expensive but Masao is given some money and Kikujiro has a plan: they could bet his ¥2,000 budget on the horses and leave as rich travellers. Of course there is a flaw in this plan – that of raw stupidity – and after numerous attempts they have to take a different course of action. After a series of increasingly strange and occasionally troublesome encounters, they head out on the road, literally, taking any opportunity to hitch-hike, scrounge, cheat or coerce their way across the country in search of Masao’s mother; that is, if she resides where they think she lives or even wants to see her own son. They meet a variety of people along the way: good, bad and just plain strange in their quest for resolution, something Kikujiro himself may also need.
Takeshi Kitano is ‘The Man With No Name’ (well, at least, he doesn’t reveal it to anyone often) in this comedy road movie that uses emotional clout and plentiful humour to great effect. This is aided by Joe Hisaishi’s most catchy and compelling score outside of his work with Studio Ghibli. Like many of those animations, the child’s revelations throughout the narrative are as central as those of the audience. But this is intrinsically Kitano’s film as the guide engaging in whatever nefarious, often ridiculous, plan he has derived to achieve the ultimate goal. The use of manzai violent humour is taken to a variety of levels as Kikujiro either beats up or is beaten up on several occasions. But Kitano also shows us artistic and emotional elements to the film. As Masao seeks his mother after finding a photograph of her, so the film is broken into chapters that are titled using photographs that depicting this bizarre summer holiday – like a holiday snap photo album. Similarly Kitano’s art depicting angels is reflected in the good luck charm he steals (well, coerces) from the friendly bikers (Baldy and Fatso) and balanced with Masao’s dreams of heaven and hell, wonderfully colourful scenes.
Also included on the blu-ray is an original 90-minute contemporary ‘making of’ documentary, showing the work as it progressed as well as the production fun: when the cast and crew were as professional and funny off-screen as they were on the picture.
Solid, sentimental, surreal and stupid (in a good way), Kikujiiro is a road movie that demands viewing. And, while you’re at it, you should see Scenes by the Sea too…