1999, NR, 116 min. Directed by Takeshi Kitano. Starring Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, Great Giidayu, Beat Kiyoshi, Yuko Daike, Kayoko Kishimoto, Yusuke Sekiguchi, Rakkyo Ide.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 30, 2000
This Japanese movie by popular star Takeshi “Beat” Kitano is a sweet and amusing picaresque tale of the physical and emotional journey of an ill-matched nine-year-old boy Masao (Sekiguchi) and the adult male Kikujiro (Kitano) who serves as his guide. For the most part, however, they refer to each other as “Kid” and “Mister,” terms indicative of their odd relationship and meeting. Summer vacation has just begun and Masao, who lives alone with his grandmother, is lonely because all the other kids have gone away for the holidays and all his usual activities have been suspended for the vacation. Then, by accident, he discovers a picture and the address of his mother, whom he has never met. He sets off to find her but does not know how. A friend of his grandmother, who describes Masao as a “gloomy” child, volunteers her husband Kikujiro to accompany him. Kikujiro is a petty hustler and a loudmouth, whose wife seems willing to trade him away in order to gain a little window of peace and quiet. And he's not exactly the sort you'd expect to find companionship with a sad young boy. Their journey takes them first to the track where Kikujiro blows all Masao's traveling money. After that, they walk and hitchhike and meet up with a succession of colorful characters. Played mostly for comedy, Kikujiro might be the Japanese equivalent of Big Daddy or Disney's upcoming The Kid with Bruce Willis. However, the movie must be seen as a distinctly Takeshi “Beat” Kitano picture. Kitano (whose stage name is “Beat”) is a Japanese superstar who, in addition to making films, also appears in eight weekly TV shows, writes novels, and paints (his artwork can be seen throughout Kikujiro). His 1997 film Fireworks (Hana-Bi) achieved international acclaim and put him on the world map as a director of renown. Kikujiro, however, marks a departure in style for Kitano, whose films often deal with cops and the violent underworld. Not only is Kikujiro sweet and funny, it is, no doubt, Kitano's experimental “art film.” The movie is loaded with showy, scene-stealing shots. Narratively illogical point-of-view shots like the ones filmed from the bottom of a champagne flute, an insect's honeycombed POV, and throwaway concoctions like the multiple superimpositions or a reflection viewed in a car hubcap litter the film and contrast awkwardly with the simplicity of the story. Sequences are allowed to go on for “poetic” lengths that disconcertingly make things seem more plodding than they actually are. The story is amusingly told in a scrapbook fashion as chapters in the kid's “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” report. And that's when the movie is at its best: when it sticks to the boy's point of view, unsullied by more complicated adult concerns.