I was born...
The Asakusa Kid
The Two Beats
Life and Death
The solo years - comedy
The solo years - acting
Watch out, this man is dangerous
The turning point
The "Kid" returns
I am the master !
Father and Mother
The third period of Kitano Takeshi
I was born...
Kitano Takeshi was born January 18, 1947, in Umeshima, Adachiku, Tokyo, the youngest of four, having two elder brothers, Shigekazi and Masaru, and an elder sister, Yasuko.
Masaru, already a young adult, was working as a translator, while the rest still attended school.
His father, Kikujiro, originally a lacquer, worked as a housepainter and decorator after a short and failed attempt as fletcher. This was post-war Japan and were the lucky had a
regular job, getting a monthly pay check, Kikujiro had to support his family by taking any job he could get. Takeshi and his brothers had to help him with his work, which he hated, as
his classmates would make fun of and look down on him. But the appearance as a man who worked hard to support his family was only superficial. He was an alcoholic and would
spend most of the money he earned on alcohol, and when he had been drinking, he would become violent and beat up both his wife and his kids. Eventually, Kikujiro left his
His mother, Saki, was strict and devoting herself to the education of her children. Working tirelessly, she would save every cent and use the money to buy books for her children.
She made them take summer school, she made them take classes in English and calligraphy and she would punish them if they didn?t kept up their work. She would even sometimes
stand behind them with a light in order for them to read. She was a very caring mother.
Shigekazi, the eldest brother, would support her doing this. She would consult with him and he would raise money to pay for their tuition. In his book "Kodoku", Kitano descripes
how Shigekazi would function as the head of the family, the man of the house, and how he and Saki did everything for him, his brother and her sister.
If we look back on her life, it is easier to understand why she pushed her children so hard. Her mother died when she was an infant and when her father hit hard times, she was
forced to go to Tokyo and become a servant to a wealthy family when she was thirteen. Here she met Ushi, who was a private teacher to the daughter of the house. They became
good friends and it was arranged that Saki should marry her son. Sadly, he died shortly before the wedding. Loving her like her own daughter, Ushi chose to adopt Saki and arranged
marriage between her nephew, Kikujiro, and Saki.
It was not only because she didn?t wanted her children to end as Kikujiro, it was also because, "the poor can only escape poverty through good education." She had experienced
the lack of both poverty and having no education on her body. She did not want her children to having to feel nor go thru that. Last and not least, because of the post-war educational
reform, which in its attempt to imitated USA caused both academic snobbery and new, higher, demands, the need for a good education became important even in fields not
Takeshi lived and grew up in Adachi ward in Senju, one of the poorest and roughest neighbourhoods of Tokyo, in a one room house, together with his brothers and sister, his
mother and his grandmother, Ushi. Hard enough while Kikujiro lived with them, but it became even harder after he left and Saki had to support the family. They were very poor. In his
autobiography, "Takeshi-kun Hai!", Kitano tells, that they would use old wooden orange boxes as desks to study at and they would sit under the streetlight at night when reading.
But there were also happy times. Almost like the cheerful parts of a Naruse drama, Kitano, for instance, tells how their home was the first house to get a television set in the
neighbourhood and henceforth became the centre of the community, and later,
"I remember my neighbourhood as being like one big family. People still growing vegetables in nearby fields and washed them in the river, boys chased butterflies
and dragonflies, their moms chatted at the public baths while their dads tipped a few at the bar on the corner."
This community sense of friendship and family remains today visible as motifs in the film by Kitano Takeshi.
In his biography, Imai Takako notes, that Kitano desperately wanted to escape his background and become the centre of attention. In junior high school he joined the baseball
team, but was because of his size never picked for any important position. Later, at age 12, he joined a local baseball club, the Shimane Eagles, and became a pitcher, but left both
teams after a year or so. The reason was, that Kitano had discovered boxing and began to train with much vigour, so much so, that he almost didn?t pass the entry exam to Adachi
Excelling in math and arts, Kitano wanted to become an engineer and build cars. Cars were very much so a luxury item and to work for a big car company, as Honda, was a dream
of his. In 1965, Kitano took and passed the entry exam at the prestigious Meiji University and began to study engineering. But not sooner than he began to study, did he begin to
become distracted by other things and soon his goals and dreams were in the past.
Instead of pursuing his academic career, Kitano began hanging out in Shinjuku, a "quarter latin" or Asbury Height equivalent in Tokyo. Here poet, writers, painters and other sorts
of intellectuals and artists would hang out in hope to make a name themselves. He also began calling himself a "futen". Literary meaning "mad people", futen were social drop-outs,
who rebelled against the establishment and who wanted to be free from an existing theory of value. While copying the look of the hippies and adopting their beliefs, the futen was
more differentiated than their American counterpart, ranging from free love anti-war to beatniks. Kitano belonged to the latter.
He would sit and listen to jazz music and discuss French existentialism, art and literature. He would go to the library and read section up and down in order to keep up. After four
years of university, Kitano dropped out, October 1, 1970, though other sources falsely say, he was expelled for "rebellious behaviour". Deeply disappointed, Saki kept on paying
tuition for another year, in hope that Takeshi would return and graduate. A note here should be, that Kitano eventually did graduate. He was awarded an honorary Bachelor of Science
in engineering, September 7, 2004. When he recieved the degree, he was very proud and said, "I will tell my mother about this happy news."
While attending university, Kitano became conscious of death. We can only speculate to what degree reading Sartre and Camus influenced the way he began to think, but while
being sick with an throat infection, Kitano began to worry about getting cancer. He suddenly realised, that he wasn't living his own life and developed an angst. How could he die
without having done something he wanted to do? While having no exact idea what he really wanted to do, he still became defiant and decided to drop out.
A futen university drop-out, Kitano began working odd jobs to support himself. Over the next couple of years he would work as a waiter, a cargo handler, a salesman, a
supermarket clerk, doing manual labour and even driving a taxi, before getting tired of being a futen. He even tried to get back his dream and applied for a job at a local Honda
factory, but didn't get it. It was not so much the ideas, but more the fact, that he never get anywhere and always slept on someone?s floor. Kitano had achieved his childhood goal of
escaping his background, but now he has a poor nobody - hardly the center of attention.
The Asakusa Kid
In 1972 Kitano moved from Shinjuku to Asakusa, downtown Tokyo. Asakusa ward 6 was a centre for amusements and was full of cinemas, theatres, comedy theatres, variety
theatres and striptease theatres. The reason Kitano moved was that he wanted to be a comedian. He wanted to be the centre of attention.
But more than just to become the centre of attention, Kitano sought to break away from his background and live his own life. In the book "Yosei", Kitano talks about his need to
do so. As a child, whenever he would find something funny, his mother would scold him, telling him it wasn't funny. Likewise she always forbid him to express himself and how he felt,
as it not only was unbecoming, but also gross. As a comedian says and does what he thinks is funny, by expressing himself, the choise of becoming one was another act of defiance.
Thus to defy became Kitano's selfrealisation and the means to become independent and live his own life.
To become a comedian, one must first become an apprentice to a comedy master. So Kitano walked around from comedy theatre to comedy theatre, asking, even begging, to be
introduced to one, and time and time he was refused introduction. It was around time a sign caught the attention of young Takeshi. While the main attraction at the French theatre
was striptease, it also has stand up comedy by Fukami Senzaburo. Kitano liked his work and asked the lady at the box office if she would introduce him. Surprisingly he would, but on
one condition, that Kitano would work as a liftboy.
Over the next months Kitano would work the lift and do other tasks at the French theatre. He became good friends with both dancers and staff, and was very will liked. So as
promised, Kitano was introduced to Fukami. Reluctant Fukami agreed. Kitano was more a student than Fukami was a teacher, but his persistence and dedication impressed Fukami,
who little by little opened up more and more, as Kitano improved day by day. Eventually, Fukami could not teach him anymore dance steps and encouraged him to learn tap dancing
and take acting classes. Not soon after Fukami decided to give Kitano his break and asked him to play a transvestite. But despite the audience laughing, Fukami was not pleased,
stopped the apprenticeship and didn?t talk to Kitano or casted him for a long time.
Back working the lift, Kitano grew more and more frustrated. Then luck showed its face. One of the comedians had resigned, so Kitano was asked, if he couldn?t stand in.
Dressed up as a transvestite, he would now work as the master of ceremonies, which basically was entertaining the audience between acts. Being completely new to this, Kitano
made mistake on mistake, but people liked him and forgave him. Even Fukami, who soon took him into apprenticeship again.
Over the next two years Kitano did nothing but comedy. When not working, he would tireless practise comedy routines over and over again. He was consumed by it and even
when relaxing with friends, all he could do was to talk about comedy. But doing so, Kitano once again found himself getting nowhere. Asakusa was slowly falling behind in the rapid
pace Tokyo moved onward and Kitano had no intentions of growing old there.
The Two Beats
For some time now, Kitano had thought about teaming up with another comedian. Around that time he met Kaneko Kiyoshi, called Jiro, who also worked at the French theatre.
He knew Kitano and approached him in hope to join forces. Kitano was not sure about the whole thing. Each day Jiro would talk to Takeshi about it, each day Takeshi would grow
more and more concerned. It was not so much that he didn?t wanted to leave, it was more that he didn?t wanted to be disloyal to his master. Eventually, Kitano gave in. The desire to
become famous was too strong and as he told Fukami the news, Fukami became very upset and fell ill.
They took on the name "Shokakuya Jiro, Jiro", but they hardly got any gigs and even when they worked, they made lesser money than their old jobs at the French theatre would
pay. It is important note, that back then all the star comedians were double acts and that in order to get jobs on the big stages you needed one of the star teams to mentor you. So in
order of improving their situation, Jiro decided that they should let Columbia Top Light (one of the most famous teams) be their mentor, who in turn, after having accepted them, gave
them a new name, "Sora Takeshi Kiyoshi". But neither the mentor, the new management nor the new name brought any improvements with it.
Kitano grew not only frustrated, because he now was doing as bad as before he joined the French theatre, but also because he had left and disappointed Fukami. Assessing the
situation, it was clear for Kitano, that the problem was the material, which was written by Jiro. It simply wasn?t funny. Soon Kitano would become so despondent, that he would show
up drunk or not at all ? and when he showed up, he would be rude and start fights with the audience if they didn?t laugh. They broke up as team.
Kitano then saw a show by a man called Youshichi, who would speak obscenities so rapidly, as if his mouth was a machinegun. That was what he had been looking for, a new
approach. Kitano was excited and inspired. He wrote up a completely new comedy routine for him and Jiro, where Kitano would play a city person from Tokyo who would insult a
farmer coming to the big city, played by Jiro. Approaching Jiro with the new material, Kitano suggested that he was in charge of the material and a catchy new name. After some
tugging, they decided on "The Two Beats", reflecting Kitano?s love for jazz: Henceforth Kitano would be Beat Takeshi and Jiro would be Beat Kiyoshi.
What "The Two Beats" made was not really manzai. Kitano had never studied it, nor been a fan of it. The traditional form of manzai requires two people: the tsukkomi (the joke
teller) and the boke (the victim, fall guy). The tsukkomi introduces the subject and the boke creates "punch lines" by answering in north when asked in south, the tsukkomi then picks
up the lead again, often hitting the boke over the head. The manzai of "The Two Beats" was completely different. Kitano simply went off into a monologue and Kiyoshi, having a hard
time following Takeshi and making up snappy relies on the spot, would comment with things like, "what are you talking about?". It was soon labelled "New Wave Manzai" and created
a boom in comedy.
The material was obscene and vulgar. Beat Takeshi would be the machine-gun mouth shooting words like "shit", "cock" and "pussy" out in a non-stop stream, while Beat Kiyoshi
would interject. It was an instant hit. Kids loved it. Wherever they played in Asakusa, they played for a sold out house. Even famous comedians would come down and see this new
act. Eventually the manzai boom would become so big, that comedy festivals were organised and comedians would act on stages, where bands like The Beatles and Deep Purple
had played. It became huge.
But It was not just about being vulgar. While the targets of Kitano were the elderly, children, handicapped, the poor, the ugly, the goverment... and women, his anti-social and anti
-humanitarian humour was about attacking conventions. In that aspect "The Two Beats" were on a similar path as the American Lenny Bruce. Both would take subjects not generally
associated with humour, rather considered serious matters, like for instance death or race, or private matters, like illness and sex, and then thru the humour show the hypocrisy
Then again... Beat Takeshi was, and still is today, the child who stuck firecrackers up the ass of frogs and blew them up. And his comedy is the same.
One night an executive producer from NHK, the biggest television network in Japan, saw them and got them a gig on television. This was 1976. Being given a list of things they
could not say on television, Kitano said "ass" over and over again. The result: The producer was fired and "The Two Beats" where signed on. On TV, their show turned absurd. They
would repulse viewers with their verbal routines and do silly things as jumping into a river and coming out with fish in their mouths. And while the critics hated them more and more,
the audience loved them more and more. Eventually, their shows were closely monitored and they were instructed to follow "do not say" lists. They even banned Kitano for a year, but
to little effect. All traditional and conservative forces lined up and attacked them for not being funny and their material for not being comedy, but as Kitano notes upon in his book
"The Asakusa Kid", the more they persecuted us, the more famous we became.
Peaking, Kitano felt he needed to develop. During the late 70's, Kitano began to do solo acts, developing a new style and diversifying, showing a darker side of both his comedy
and himself. Much had to do with Kitano wanting to be taken serious and act. Following the advice of friend and director Nagisa Oshima to steer away from comedy, he begun playing
criminals, even taking on a role as a psycho killer in a television serial, which became a huge success. Kitano continued to act in drama on television, further diversifying himself by
hosting talk shows. He also began writing. Eventually he had to choose between his own career and the one of "The Two Beats", so they broke up in the early 80's.
Life and Death - The maturing years
To the public, Takeshi was a player, having several girlfriends at the same time, but truth is, that for many years, Takeshi had been seeing the female comedian Matsuda Mikoko.
She understood what drove Takeshi. And she knew how to get him where he needed to go. It was her, who helped him thru the early years. She was his muse and he was head over heals in love with her. They became married in 1978. Their first child, their son Kitano Atsushi, was born on March 31, 1981, and October 5, 1982, Mikoko give birth to their daughter, Kitano Shoko.
Officially he of course claimed that she had conned him, that she had drugged him and made him sign the marriage registration without his knowledge.
About the same time, the popularity of "The Two Beats" took off. It became "in" to see comedy, especially authority defying comedy as performed by the beats, and even Kitano?s
mother, Saki, who always had been against the idea, finally accepted and supported his choice of career.
As if things couldn?t get any better, tragedy struck. In 1979, Kikujiro, Kitano?s father, had a heart attack and was hospitalised. The family would sit by his side around the clock,
and as soon as Kitano was done with work, he would rush to the hospital. One day during work, the phone rang and Kitano was told that his father had passed away. In an rare
interview, Kitano goes back and tells us, that the last words of his father had been, "I?m sorry."
It was during these times, that Kitano began to diversify. He began doing solo acts and developed a new style, showing a darker side of both his comedy and himself. Much had
to do with Kitano wanting to be taken serious and act. Following the advice of friend and director Oshima Nagisa to steer away from comedy, he begun playing criminals, even taking
on a role as a psycho killer in a television serial, which became a huge success. Kitano continued to act in drama on television, further diversifying himself by hosting talk shows. He
also began writing.
In 1983, at the peak of their career, tragedy struck once more. Preparing for a show, sitting in his dressing room, Kitano was told that Fukami Senzaburo had died. Kitano was
devastated, went into shock and couldn?t stop shivering. Not only was Fukami the man who shaped Kitano as comedian, he was also the man who?s heart Kitano broke when leaving
the French theatre, something he never had apologized for. Personally, I believe the death of Fukami to be the catalyst, that, still today, drives Kitano to constantly improve himself
and to be his own greatest critic.
Despite their huge popularity, it was clear to them both, that Kitano was moving more and more away from "The Two Beats". Eventually he had to choose between his own career
and the one of "The Two Beats", so they broke up in the early 80's.
The solo years ? comedy
In 1981, Kitano became a host on the radio program "All Night Nippon". It was aired nightly at 1 am and the majority of its listeners where high school students. The show would
name a topic, then having its listeners write and send them post cards, which the host then would read and comment. Kitano would be on the show once a week and his topics where
not the usual ones, but an extension of his Beat-humour. For instance, on the topic "How to wank off", he would suggest that you could dress up as a cow, with your dick hanging out
and then having a milkmaid giving you a hand job believing she was milking a cow.
Needless to say the kids loved the show. He addressed his listeners as Omaera (the lot of you), a term used by gangleaders about the common members, and in return they saw
him as a role model, as an elder brother. Some began to hang around outside the radio station. They called themselves Gundan (Takeshi?s army) and referred to Kitano as Tono (my
lord), the name samurai would call their master. In return he took them on as apprentices and planned a series of programmes called "Ganbaruman", where the army members were
given dares, one more insane and potential deadly than the other. The public was outraged, but that didn?t affect neither Kitano, nor the Gundan, nor the listeners. A footnote here
should be, that in turn, many of the Gundan would appear in the films of Kitano: Gadarukanaru Taka, Dankan, Tsumami Edamame, Yanagi Yurei, and Ide Rakkyo are in Boiling
Point, Dankan, Sonomanma Higashi and many others are in Getting Any?, Tsumami Edamame is in Hana-bi and Ide Rakkyo and Great Gidayu are in
Another part of the show became Kitano talking about his childhood, which extended into him talking openly about his sexlife, even his extra-marital affairs, which extended to
him disclosing secrets about himself, his family, his friends and famous people. One night Kitano talked about a prostitute he regular visited and mentioned her real name and
instantly his listeners would invade the soap house in hope to become "soap-brothers" with Kitano.
In the spring of 1981, Kitano began appearing on the TV show "Oretachi Hyokinzoku" (We are Jokers), a Japanese version of the American comedy show "Saturday Night Live".
Here, Kitano invented the character "Takechan-Man", a superhero who each week would fight his enemy "The Black Devil" and together they would do childish and silly things. Kids
love "Takechan-Man" so much, that he soon was as popular as the computer game and children cartoon "Mario Brothers".
In 1985, NHK made a TV-series out of Kitano?s book "Takeshi-kun, Hai!" Kitano had for a while been writing books, amongst them also novels. Where "Kids return" and "Asakusa
Kid" were about his childhood, written for an adult audience, this book "Takeshi-kun, Hai!" was written as a children?s book and became a bestseller. All three books are essential
and critically acclaimed writings about Kitano?s childhood. NHK made the novel into a 15-episode soap, which as the book, became a huge success. Kitano was disturbed by its
success, as it made people realise that he was far more intelligent than he made himself out to be, and that he had a kind and gentle heart.
In 1986, Kitano took the Ganbaruman a step further when making "Fuun! Takeshi jou" (Hero Takeshi Castle). Takeshi was the count of a castle and to get to him the guests had
to complete a series of obstacle courses, which were just as insane as the Ganbaruman, but not quiet as deadly. It was very much like a real life version of the computer game "Super
Mario Brothers". It ran for three very successful years and was subsequently sold to many countries, amongst them the US, where it runs today as "MXC - Most Extreme Elimination
"Takeshi Castle" mutated into "Ultra Owarai Quiz", where the Gundan, along with one-hit wonders and unpopular comedian and actors, all craving to be on TV, would play a game
on the TV stations car park, where the object was, apart from being humiliated by Kitano, to grab a ball that said "Atari" (You Win!). Those winning, would then go on to the "finals"
where they would be subjected to insane things. For instance, Kitano would place a contestant on the top of a tower (secured with bungee-rope) and if he answered wrong, the would
push him off the tower. The fireworks battle and the "landmines" in Sonatine is very much so an extension of this show.
It all made Kitano feel uneasy. The more popular he became, the more accepted he would become and the more uncomfortable Kitano would feel. Years earlier, he attacked
popular household comics as sell outs.
"Comedians are supposed to make people laugh by doing things they?re not allowed to do. Once they start taking about family values and humanity, they?re not
Not long after he had become a success with "Takechan-Man" and thereby had been given a public nice guy image, he would rebel against it. Thus, in 1982, he would begin
flashing his genitals on live TV. Another such rebelling stunt was his 1986 attack on the offices of the weekly gossip magazine "Friday". Prior to the incident, it had shown a picture of
Kitano with a woman they claimed was his mistress. Kitano became furious and together with Gundan, he broke into the office, beat up the staff members and demolitioned the
place. Kitano would later try to excuse the incident as a joke. It happened to take place on the anniversary of the Chuushingura raid, so he and Gundan thought it would make a funny
gesture. He also pointed out, that they used fire extinguishers to "spray" the office (in Japanese slapstick they are the equivalent of American pie throwing). While few bought into
Kitano's excuse, surprisingly many understood his outrage against the attack on his privacy - they just didn't accepted the way he expressed it.
In light of the pressure from the incident, and the stress which came in its wake, Kitano decided to take a, what would amount to, seven month break from work. While he was
away, the producers discussed firing him, even banning him from TV, but when he returned, a public poll voted him the most popular TV celebrity on NHK - and like that, Kitano was
back and more popular than ever.
The irony of the "Friday" incident was, that in 1987, another scandal magazine revealed the identity of Kitano?s real mistress. And while Mikoko, left Kitano for a period, they
decided not get divorced and found together again. In retrospect, it seemed that 1987 was a year of cleaning the table and making new plans, and the most significant was Kitano
leaving Ota Productions, the agency he had been with since 1974, and setting up his own agency: Office Kitano.
Another irony was, that even though Kitano had achieved his childhood goal of escaping his background and becomming the center of attention, he had grow more and more
disillusioned by the entire TV world. He needed "a new toy".
The solo years ? acting
In 1980 Kitano took the jump from television to film, but with no success, neither personally nor professionally. The problem was, that he, as a famous comedian, was cast in
comedies and as such had to act comic. An example is his second, Danpu wataridori (Ikuo Sekimoto 1981), where he plays a cop doing nothing but telling jokes and doing
gags or Sukkari? sono ki de! (Kotani Shusei 1981), a romantic comedy, where he played a hapless lout who wants to be a film producer.
Knowing him from his TV days, Oshima Nagisa casted Kitano as the sadistic prison camp leader Hara in his 1983 drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Kitano gave a
stellar performance, acting extremely professional and beyond experience. It was during the shooting of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, where Oshima gave Kitano two
advices: (1) Always aim for the biggest part and (2) Drop comedy and play villains.
Following the advice, Kitano landed a mayor part, playing the real life serial killer Okubo Kiyoshi in the TV-drama Okubo Kiyoshi no Hanzai (The crime of Kiyoshi Okubo,
Yamaizumi 1983). Kitano was perfect for the role. Okubo would pick up girls, pretending to be an artist, then rape and strangle them. Kitano once again played beyond his
experience. With the greatest attention to detail, Kitano would meticulous portray the idiosyncrasies of Okubo; his childishness, his insecurity and his violence.
Oshima had recognised Kitano?s troubled youth and his ability to reflect and draw from it, the very ability that made him such a good actor. A nice anecdotal tangent is, when
Kitano in 1996 meet Hou Hsiao-Hsien, he would tell him, "I bet you were a wild guy when you grew up." Hou asked Kitano how he would know and Kitano told Hou, "I
sense the same vibe in your work that I have in mine." One might say, that Kitano at this point had reached an understanding of what made him great and how he should use
But one thing was Oshima recognising Kitano?s talent and hidden aspects, another was how the public reacted to Kitano. Some of the Japanese audience were confused by
seeing their most prominent comedian in a serious role, so they laughed when he was on screen. Kitano was deeply hurt: "It is ok to be laughed at on stage or on TV, doing your act,
but I didn?t liked to be laughed at in public. I didn?t wanted to be told, I was a funny guy in my private life."
When producer Yagi Yasuo and director Yamaizumi were preparing their next TV-drama, they both wanted Kitano again and he happily accepted, as the only film roles he could
get was comic bit parts. His next role was another real life part, portraying the cult leader Jesus Sengoku in Iesu No Hakobune (The Ark of Jesus, Yamaizumi 1985). Sengoku
had a bible study group in form of a self-sufficient community, where a lot of young women were drawn to. Despite them being were happy, their parents accused Sengoku for
brainwashing and kidnapping their daughters and thru the press it turned into a huge scandal. Once again, Kitano proved himself a very dedicated dramatic actor. While there was no
violence in the role, it demanded a kind and sad calm.
Kitano would get three small roles, the heroin addicted gangster in Yasha(Demon, Furuhata 1985), the hit man with a social conscience in Komikku zasshi nanka
iranai! (Comic Magazine, Takita 1986) and a plain hit man in Anego (Takamori 1988), before turning director himself with Violent Cop (1989). He was rarely
cast as anything else than bit actor or in minor roles for feature film. Only two films have him in the lead, "Hoshi Wo Tsugumono" (Inheritors of stars, Komizu 1990) and "Kyoso
Tanjyo" (Many happy returns, Tenma 1993). The first was based upon an original idea by Kitano, the latter on his novel with same name. The first real leading role as an drama actor
in a feature film not directed by Kitano didn?t happened until 2004 in "Blood and Bones" (Sai 2004) and Kitano only took the role because he didn?t feel confident enough about his
Meanwhile his career as TV-actor went very well. He continued to act in real life drama?s produced by Yagi. After Iesu No Hakobune, their next film together was Kim
No Senso (Kim?s war, Odagiri 1991), where Kitano would play Kim Hui Ro, who after having shot a gangster, took refuge at a hotel and took the guest hostages. Realising his
position, he invites the press inside and explains why he was driven to his crime, before letting himself getting arrested. As in the two prior TV-dramas, Kitano once again proves
himself a great actor. Their next film together was Settoku (Persuasion, Yamaizumi 1993) where Kitano plays Jehova?s Witness who is faced with the decision wheater or
not to save his dying son by letting him recieve blood. The collaboration between Yagi, Yamaizumi and Kitano is still to this date a side of Kitano which is relatively unknown to even
Japanese fans. Sad, as it is an important source for studying Kitano as a dramatic actor.
Watch out, this man is dangerous
Originally Violent Cop never was intended to be more than just another simple slapstick comedy about a Dirty Harry-ish cop, and for Kitano it was nothing more than just
another film where all he was supposed to do was acting silly. However things turned out quiet different and in turn became a defining point in the life and career of Kitano
The film were to be directed by veteran director Fukasaku Kinji and it was had a four week shooting schedule. Everything went according to plan, until Kitano informed
Nabeshima Hisao, the producer, that he only would be available for periods of ten days at a time.
The reason was Kitano?s commitments to television and how he structured his time. He had seven shows a week, was on TV each day, and he organised his time so, that he
would tape 2 shows a day, the one for the night and the one for next week, then using the alternate week to write books or, as in this case, act. His acting had to this point never
interfered with his TV work. The TV productions had been flexible and his feature film involvement had been limited to bit parts. But now it constituted a problem.
Furthermore, Kitano insisted on only doing one rehearsal and one take. When executive producer Okuyama Kazuyoshi presented Fukasaku with these conditions, he refused to
work under such conditions and said, "Either I or Takeshi has to go."
With the director and the star, each making it impossible to continue, producer Nabeshima Hisao considered giving up the project. A meeting was held where people were
informed about the development, and instead of giving in, Kitano had said, "who will be the new director?" Having no new director, Okuyama said so, and as a joke asked
Kitano if he would direct it. To everyone?s surprise, Kitano said, "Sure? How hard can it be?"
Soon he would realise exactly how hard it was. Never having directed was quiet a problem and the problem only became bigger, as the crew had experience and insisted on using
it. Every day became a challenge for Kitano to get the crew to do what he wanted. For instance, Kitano refused to having a moving camera, because when you move the camera, you
risk getting things into the frame you didn?t plan for; hence the compositions were almost all static camera. Equally unsure about continuity and editing in relation to the narrative,
Kitano insisted on long takes: a close-up would last ten seconds, a medium shot 20 and a long shot could last up to a minute.
In a recent interview, Kitano looks back on those days with mixed emotions. While he believes it to be a great film, he feels embarrassed. Kitano explains: "It was shot a long
time ago, when I didn't knew how to make a film. At least now, I am beginning to grasp what filmmaking is all about, gradually" and continues, "So I watched it again the
other day on video, so that I could comment on it during the interview, as I had forgotten almost everything about it. Frankly, I couldn't bear to watch it. It's like being forced to watch
yourself when you were a kid. I felt so embarrassed."
But being in control of the film also had its positive aspects. Longing after serious acting parts, Kitano basically rewrote the entire script, removing all comical elements and
turned it into a dark gritty drama. He remembered Oshima?s advice and it had served him very well in TV drama.
Having done his best, which the crew considered worthy of shaking their heads in disbelief, Kitano anticipated the audience to recognize his dramatic acting talent. It was thus
with high hopes that he snuck into a theatre during the first week to witness their reactions. To his dismay, the audience would laugh whenever he was on screen. Enraged and
disillusioned, he defied the audience and changed his character in his next film, Boiling Point, into a sadistic, violent, misogynistic, sodomising son of a bitch. The clown had
to die. Kitano has later reflected upon this.
"It took me ten years of playing serial killers and rapists to be perceived as a serious actor amongst the Japanese public."
We know little of what Boiling Point originally started out as. But we know what it became. During the post production of Violent Cop, Nabeshima had
discussed a second film with Kitano over lunch and Kitano began to talk about this story about a yakuza. Nabeshima had insisted that Kitano played him, which he later confessed,
would have done anyway.
Rather than directing, Kitano began to experiment with editing; in fact Boiling Point is a blue print for elliptic editing which today is so idiosyncratic for Kitano. During the
post production of Violent Cop, Kitano had discovered editing and actually participated actively in the editing of Violent Cop. In later interviews, Kitano noted upon
his direction and his editing,
"When I write a script, I have the entire film in my head, so when we start shooting, I just do it. Im more interested in the editing process, so I tend to shoot in a hurry.
Maybe you don?t always have enough footage, but how you play around with it, is what is interesting."
One may argue, that the editing process took over control when directing Boiling Point, and one may say that the plot only serves as a means to produce footage for Kitano
to play around with as editor. Perhaps Kitano needed to neglect directing to realise the balance required when both directing and editing. It may be many things, but most of all
Boiling Point was a huge flop and Kitano left Shochiko. He now knew the basics, it was time to be his own boss.
Making the first film under the banner of Office Kitano, A Scene at the Sea was made as cheap as possible in order to get "black ink" in the books. Kitano would direct,
not act, quiet possible because his on screen appearance would cause laughter and he didn?t wanted that. To keep production costs at a minimum, Kitano shot at a beach, thereby
removing all production design and studio costs and he would work without a script (the film is virtually without dialogue). A Scene at the Sea is perhaps the most
minimalistic film of Kitano and became a moderate success. It was nominated for best direction, editing, screenplay and score, but only Joe Hisaishi returned with an award. It did
however win best film at the 13th Yokohama Film Festival.
A reason for Kitano being snobbed and overlooked at the Japanese Academy Awards may lie in what happend at the 1989 award ceremony, where Kitano showed up wearing a
Geisha costume (a female dress) and with his "Beat" persona completely deflated the seriousness of the occasion. Perhaps this is why the Academy, still today, 15 years later, hasn?t
awarded his directorial efforts.
A Scene at the Sea is also important in another aspect, as it was the first film produced by Mori Masayuki, who as a former TV director of Kitano had joined Office Kitano
in 1988 and since 1992 has been the managing director of Office Kitano, and as such the manager of Kitano. Mori is an important piece in the success of Kitano. Not only does Mori
produce the film, he also guides him. Kitano told me, that Mori and him think alike, and by discussing ideas with Mori, he enables Kitano to pinpoint his vision (and not going over
budget). He will encourage Kitano to pursuit an idea if Kitano is hesitant and keep "Beat" locked up when not needed. Last and not least, Mori is the manager of Kitano, who, in terms
of Office Kitano, just is a talent. Again, as they think alike, Mori will turn down offers he know isn?t suited for Kitano and present Kitano with offers which is within his talent. Mori is the
angle of Kitano, to use one of his motifs.
Realising the failure of Boiling Point, Okuyama Kazuyoshi had told Kitano, perhaps in jest, that the next time they did a film together, if should be a Japanese version of
Die Hard. Kitano said, that he had such a script, told Okuyama about the plot, which stars he intended to have in it and Okuyama went ahead and arranged a budget of YEN
500 million (roughly $4,5 million).
If it doubtful that Kitano ever have had the intension to make a film a la Die Hard and production had hardly begun, before Kitano and Okuyama came on a collision
course. Kitano would go to a remote island, only accessible by plane, once a day, where he would shoot an adaptation of Godard?s Pierrot le fou (the shooting script of
Sonatine was actually called "Pierrot Okinawa" and his perhaps as opposite as possible from the concept of Die Hard), he would not hire the cast he had
suggested, but no names.
Back in Tokyo, Okuyama, who as the head of Shochiku was struggling with a bad financial situation, was looking at a potential second flop and became more and more
frustrated. When he saw the rushes he became furious. In an interview, Okuyama accused Kitano of all sorts of things, said that he would not have his name in the credits and vowed
that Kitano never would be allowed to direct another film.
Despite the predictions of Okuyama, Sonatine turned out to be a huge success. More so, it gave Kitano international recognition, receiving the critics award at Cognac
Festival du Film Policier. Once again, the Academy ignored Kitano and only nominated, and awarded, Joe Hisaishi for best score.
This in turn would agitate Okuyama. He would actually go to such lengths, that he kept it a secret, that Sonatine had won a prize at the Taormina festival in Italy. When
Kitano went to Cannes with Sonatine, journalists would ask him how he felt about winning the prize and Kitano would say, "What prize???"
Despite the predictions of Okuyama, Sonatine turned out to be a huge success. More so, it gave Kitano international recognition, receiving the critics award at Cognac
Festival du Film Policier. Once again, the Academy ignored Kitano and only nominated, and awarded, Joe Hisaishi for best score.
For Kitano, Sonatine is the first film of his where one can sense he is in control of the medium, at least so much, that he now trusts Yanagishima, his cinematographer,
to use the camera, as it is the first film by Kitano with travelling shots and moving camera. In an interview Kitano pointed out, that "...it is with Sonatine that I had the feeling to
achieved the first stage as a director." This is also why the film is called Sonatine. The word sonatine is a musical term meaning little sonata, which amongst other is
used for simple educational pieces; Kitano elaborates:
" When learning to play the piano, one studies various types of pieces. When one acquires the basic knowledge of these pieces, one has reached sonatine. Its not
really control, but it marks the end of first stage of training."
The turning point
" I feel that Sonatine showed that he was tired of living... I could see some sort of frustration in him."
So said composer Joe Hisaishi when reflecting upon the events that followed Sonatine. The frustration was visible to all, in hindsight, which is why, today,
Sonatine is considered his most bleak film. Despite being scot-free, having killed those who want him dead, Aniki chooses to commit suicide, rather than running away with
the girl. But in real life things were worse. Kitano would drink more and more often. When drunk, he would talk about suicide and death - "I want to die" he always said when he was
drunk, and then continue to fantasize about ways to die - to the point where he even would scare the Gundan.
There are no simple explanations for Kitano becoming more and more disillusioned and self-destructive. A lot has to do with the stress coming from having seven or more shows
a week and having to "be on" twentyfour-seven, he was becoming more and more disillusioned with his career, especially because the Japanese audience refused to recognize his
talent, he considered giving up TV, he had a growing concern about not being funny anymore and not being able to be funny, he was even more scared about becoming an old sell-out
comedian, which he elaborated on in an article he wrote after the accident, where he confessed, that he wanted to die before becoming fifty. Then there was the problems with his
wife and his affairs. A man can only take so much.
However, we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Kitano followed up on Sonatine with the absurd comedy Getting Any?. Having reached the first stage of understanding cinema with Sonatine, Kitano
felt he had to do something drastic and destructive, to break free from this current style and start all over in a new direction. Kitano is, and always was, very afraid of being pigeon
holed. However this may be a too neat explanation.
Another explanation would be, that Kitano, as he always does when he is pushed, pushes back: If they want to laugh at me on screen, then I?ll give them something to laugh at. In
a recent interview, Kitano said,
"I wanted to make fun of my own jokes, and send them up. So I made up new routines which were more outrageous than the silliest ones I usually invent. I wanted
to make myself ludicrous to the point where viewers would say, ?This guy?s had it?. I enjoyed my self-mockery so much I totally lost myself in it."
In what Kitano later would describe as "artistic suicide", even drawing parallels between him and Kurosawa in an interview by suggesting, that Kurosawa should have made a
total bullshit film like Getting Any?, instead of having attempted suicide after Dodes Kaden, Kitano more or less admits that he was suicidal. To Kitano, Getting
Any? was "suicide".
This really wasn?t a film by Kitano Takeshi. It was a film by "Beat" Takeshi, just like it was "Beat" who lead the attack on the "Friday" offices. It was self-destructive, with disrespect
for career and future. It defied Kitano as much as it defied the audience. I often compare Kitano with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Kitano told me, that to him, the "Beat" persona is sort of
a vent, that allows him to get rid of the pressure and stress. "the more nervous and stressed I get, so I have to do something funny to shake it off, to make me relax. It's just an
instinctive reaction I have." With the stress Kitano was under, "Beat" simply took over.
But where one could have hoped that Kitano would have gotten the stress out of his system with Getting Any?, it had almost the opposite effect. It flopped and drove
Kitano further into depression and self-destruction.
Mori Masayuki reflected on this in an interview in 2000, "I wonder if I should say this, but I think that accident was destined to happen. During the making of Getting
Any?, we began to be concerned that Kitano was beginning to lose his mental balance. He would say things he never said before. I used to say, something would happen. And
the accident happened."
By the accident, Mori is referring the accident of August 2, 1994. Kitano had been out drinking with the Gundan and was very drunk. There are different versions of where he
intended to drive, but they all come down to Kitano getting on his new scooter and with a unstrapped helmet crashed directly into a rail road barrier. He was rushed to a local hospital
with open skull fracture, brain contusions and a fractured cheekbone. His mother, Saki, would visit him and be sweet and full of humour, "If you want to die, don?t be such an idiot
and crash on a scooter, do it in a Porsche like James Dean." But as soon as she left the hospital, she would cry and spend time at the local shrine praying for his health.
After a month in intensive care, Kitano was released from the hospital, September 26, 1994, and had decided to give a press conference the next day. The press had been
writing about the accident and his condition daily and speculations had flown around the air. During the press conference, Kitano completely honest and open would talk about what
happend, at least as much as he could remember, and admit what things had put him under pressure, caused stress and eventually made him suicidal and self-destructive. Suffering
from paralysis in the right side of his face, missing parts of his cheekbone, which later would be reconstructed, and having a hard time even speaking, Kitano would apologies and set
the record straight.
Many were speculating if Kitano ever would become an actor or comedian again. Granted he was perhaps the most famous person in Japan, but at the time of the press
conference, Kitano was unable to speak clearly and couldn?t even hold a cigarette between his lips.
However it didn?t take long before Kitano had gotten his spirits back and in the same manner he sugar coats his childhood, he exaggerates his stay by claiming, "Right after
the accident, even in the hospital, I drank probably twice as much as I used to. I wanted to show that Takeshi hadn't slowed down."
But one thing is the public "I can do everything" Kitano, another thing is the private Kitano, and he did change. He cut down on drinking and smoking. He began to value time and
began stop wasting it. He matured.
The "Kid" returns
To prove to himself and to the public, that he was recovering, Kitano acted as a hit man in Gonin (Ishii Takashi, 1995), produced by Okuyama Kazuyoshi, still wearing an
eye patch as his eye leaked fluids. And once he felt he was ready, he began directing his next film,Kids return, based on his own book by the same name.
In 1996 Kitano went to Cannes with "Kids return". Cannes was not new to Kitano, he had been there in 1993 with Sonatine, but this time it was different. On one side,
Kitano was delighted. Here, he was, at the finest festival in the world, invited on behalf of his film, which had been picked to be screened at the 28th Director's Fortnight (Quinzaine
des R?alisateurs). On the other side, Kitano was terrified. He was very aware of, that the critics at Cannes showed no mercy and would walk out, even openly boo at a film, if they
didn?t liked it. So it was a very nervous Kitano, who the evening of April 11, 1996, sat down in the auditorium to present his film.
"To be honest, I think I would have died if people had gotten up to leave", Kitano said and continued, "I had a feeling it was going to be okay when I heard everyone
laughing at the scene where the two main characters suspend a doll from the rooftop. The doll is supposed to resemble their teacher - with his penis out."
Kids return is a most unusual film by Kitano and in many ways it is as unconventional as Getting Any?. First of all, its autobiographical, which again means
personal reflective. Many of the scenes are based on memories or events from his childhood. For instance, in a scene we see the yakuza boss ask a waiter if he is respecting and
being good to his parents. When Kitano grew up, he saw yakuza as role models. They would ask if he had been a good boy, if he respected and helped his parents and would tell him
not to do this and that. Of course they were no good criminals who would beat you up without a second thought, but they would also set examples for behaviour.
Secondly, it is the first film by Kitano where the protagonist doesn?t die. Where the ending is seen as an end, by western eyes, its seen as a new beginning by eastern eyes, and as
the talk began, it confused many critics in Cannes, who really didn?t knew what to make of the ending, but to Kitano it makes perfect sense, "There is something romantic about
knowing you?ve blown it and have to start all over", which again reflects upon himself, this in particular on his accident. The Japanese see virtue in persistence, no matter how
foolish it may be to a westerner.
Another new element was the use of colour. Kitano had begun painting after the accident. Originally it was part of the therapy to get his motoric skills back, but Kitano had this
idea, that since he had "bumped" his head, he may had become a genius or something, like they do in cartoons, so in order to test it, he would begin to paint. While his paintings
would become an integrated element in his next film, Hana-bi, he had become conscient about colours. In Kids return the two colours to watch out for are blue and
Last and not the least, Kids returnis the first film where Kitano presents us with the angel, and as such Kids Return can be seen as the first of three films, I call
them the Angel trilogy, where Kitano not only reflects upon loss, death and facing life, but also reflects upon the angel, with Brother as a four semi attached film concluding
his reflecting period. After his recovery, Kitano was one day stopped on the street by an elderly women, who told him she was a fan and that she had been very worried about his
health. She gave him a little angel figure and told him that it would look out for him. Kitano then realised, that of the many gifts he had received, there had been quiet a lot of angels.
There is nothing religious about this motif, it is merely about someone being there to look out for you.
While in Cannes, Kitano met and became friends with Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. During a party, Kitano had spotted him thru the crowd, would sit down next to Hou and
say, "I knew straight away that I shouldn?t mess with you." Hou seemed confused and Kitano continued, "I bet you were a wild guy when you were young." Hou had
indeed been a wild one and asked how Kitano would know, to which he answered, "I sense the same vibe in your work that I have in mine. It tells me that your motivation comes
from all the crap you?ve gone thru in the past."
The reason why I feel its important to share this anecdote is, that beside telling us how two directors, who share great respect and admiration for each other, became friends, it
also tells us something about the new understanding of both himself and his art Kitano had gotten. Back in 1983, director Oshima Nagisa had cast Kitano to play a serious role,
because he could see the "crap he had gone thru" and the urge to express it. Here, thirteen years later, Kitano was able to see it himself and recognise it in others. Perhaps that
"bump on his head" had something to do with it.
I am the master !
It was the evening of September 6, 1997. The place was Venice, Italy. On stage came Sally Potter, the president of the Jury. She opened the envelope and announced, that the
winner of the 54th Biennale di Venizia and thus the receiver of the Leone d?Oro was Hana-bi by Takeshi Kitano.
Applause filled the auditorium, then standing ovation.
This was a very popular choice and both the jury, the press and the critics alike had hoped for this. Everyone had been so positive about Hana-bi and many had predicted
it to win. During a press conference for the Japanese press only, Kitano had reflected, "I knew I was receiving favourable criticism this time. It made me rather cautious and I tried
not to read too much into it. But when a TV director this morning told me, that he had dreamt, that I would win the Silver Lion, I thought to myself ?Oh, shit!?."
Kitano was immensely proud of the award. So proud, that once he returned home, he would declare: "I am the master!"
Hana-bi is the central film of Kitano Takeshi in many ways. It is him most critically acclaimed and accoladed film, winner of Leone d?Oro, the Blue Ribbon (the Japanese
critics award), the Cesar (European film award), the Kinema Junpo award and the list goes on. The only thing that is missing is the Japanese Academy Award, but despite 13
nominations, once again, only Joe Hisaishi took home an award for best score.
In his essay "Equinox Flower", perhaps one of the finest essays written about Hana-
bi, American critic Dave Kehr reflects upon Kitano?s use of the Japanese concept of "mono no aware", the sadness of things, how we experience the wholeness of life by
encountering things (mono) and being sensitive to them (no aware), in respect to Ozu, Mizoguchi and Naruse. The concept is unique Japanese, even though it comparable to Virgil's
famous phrase "Lacrymae Rerum" (the tears of things) in "Aeneid", and was invented by the Japanese scholar Motoori Norinaga in the 17th century to define Japanese culture and
their ability to understand the world directly by identifying themselves with that world.
"This is hardly a scene one would expect to find in an Ozu film, yet the final passages of Hana-bi, as the couple continues their travel-folder tour of Japan,
moving from snow-capped Mount Fuji to sun-baked seashore, suggests nothing so much as the last reel of Ozu's Tokyo Story. Once again, two people who suddenly find
themselves on the outside of life turn toward each other and discover, not without pleasure and relief, that their universe has grown very small. When Nishi and Miyuki arrive at the
beach - a location fraught with meaning for Kitano, who has used beaches before in Sonatine and Scene by the Sea - they look out over the ocean; they see an
infinity before them but realize they have no place to go. Ozu and the other great Japanese classicists concerned themselves with the sad acceptance of the world full of pain and
disappointment; in the Sixties, Oshima and Imamura arrived at an angry rejection of a world now ruled by violence and horror. Kitano, the great equilibrist, balances these two
traditions; in Hana-bi, his characters achieve a furious peace."
It is also the most personal reflective, almost reminiscent, film of his. As in Kids return, Hana-bi is about moving on when you think your life is over. A great deal
also has to do with stop living in the past and concentrate on what you have now - the entire film is full of "now" moments. Kitano says, "Being content with what you?ve got is a
very Japanese way of thinking and I quiet like it."
And like that, Kitano seemed to be free of all his demons. No more fear of growing old, no more fear about becoming a sell-out, no more fear about this and that. "I think my
accident may have been a blessing in disguise. It put me in a totally different frame of mind. It made me feel good about doing comedy again. I?m very happy with the way things are
Kitano didn?t even bother with the Japanese audience not recognising him and had titled the script "Kitano Opus number 7" and joked: "That way they will know that I have
made six previous films", and while the film later got a more suitable title, Kitano held on to the joke, as the opening shot is the script with the title "Kitano Opus number 7" - just
Perhaps most importantly, the most significant statement about Kitano having given up attempting to control everything, "Of course I am still officially the director, but I know
better than to interfere in its natural direction. I?d rather just say, ?Film, go in any direction you want!?"
When Scorsese gave up trying to control his film, when making King of Comedy, Sergio Leone would later, after its screening in Cannes, pull Scorsese aside and say,
"Marty, this is your most mature film." In the same aspect, Hana-bi is the most mature film by Kitano. It's about not trying to control every aspect, its about letting the images
do the work for you. With Sonatine he became an apprentice of film, with Hana-bi he became a master.
As mentioned in previous chapter, Kitano had begun painting and in Hana-bi his paintings are an integrated motif. From the opening title shots with the angels, to the
paintings by Horibe, over the various paintings on walls (in bars, at the yakuza office, at the hotel), Kitano uses them to establish character and place, but also, by the paintings of
Horibe, emotions. Clearly an impressionist, Kitano ranges from Pointillism to Naivism, with excursions into the abstract. The paintings were collected in the art book "Hana-Bi
Artworks" and Kitano is today considered a prominent painter in Japan and has had many exhibitions.
Father and Mother
After having been discovered by Tony Rayns and Simon Field, Mr. Field would hold a retrospective of Kitano?s films at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR) in 1992,
showing Violent Cop, Boiling Point and A Scene at the Sea, allowing Europeans to see these films for the first time and would henceforth screen any new film by
or with Kitano. By the efforts of these two gentlemen, Kitano became known to Europe. We are forever in their debt.
One of the many events at the IFFR is the talkshows. These talkshows are very relaxed, the tone is different from the serious press conferences and the audience is mainly fans.
Tony Rayns would host the talkshow with Kitano, during which they would share a bottle of wine, Mr. Rayns would put Kitano on the spot and Kitano would in return crack jokes.
When in Rotterdam with Hana-bi, Mr. Rayns asked Kitano about upcoming projects. Kitano had said, that he was so tired of foreign journalists and critics asking him
about the violence in his films, so he was determined to make a movie without any violence at all. That, and that he intended to make a road movie. "You mean like Wim Wenders
used to?", Mr. Rayns had asked. "No," Kitano replied, "More like The Wizard of Oz."
The reason for Kitano?s seemingly constant change in styles and structures is, as Kitano himself notes upon, that "Films are like food. You don?t want to get tired of eating the
same thing, so you try something different."
Filming began in August 1998 and was shot in and around the Asakusa district of Tokyo, and was completed in November 1998, just in time to premiere at the Tokyo Film
Festival. The working title was "Kitano Opus number 8", continuing the joke, and got its name, Kikujiro no natsu (literally Kikujiro's Summer) during post production.
It has been suggested, that the film is autobiographical because of its title. Where Kikujiro was the name of Kitano?s father, the story is about what Masao experiences during his
summer vacation and Kitano notes, that it is set up like one of those "what did you do in your vacation" reports. Kikujiro would use the name of his father to get in character, which is
the only biographical element.
Where it was seen as just was another Kitano film in Japan, it was not considered so in Europe. After Hana-bi, Kitano had become "important", so Cahiers du Cinema
would fly a reviewer to Tokyo, to the screening of Kikujiro, simply to have a review for their next issue.
In May 1999, Kitano and court, flew to Cannes. Kikujiro had been picked to be in the competition at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1999 and everyone was
very excited. The reaction was overtly positive and soon the talk was about Kikujiro winning the Palme d?Or. The tension of Kitano grew and grew and eventually he had to
cancel a press conference due to "fatigue" and simply withdrew from the public. When president of the Jury, Canadian director David Cronenberg, announced that the winner was
Rosetta by the Dardennes Brothers, Kitano was devastated. After the ceremony, Kitano?s publicist told a shocked Japanese press, "Thank you for your support. However, I
would ask you to please leave Kitano Takeshi alone. Please don?t try to follow or to interview him."
Kitano?s comments were brief. "I was just happy to have been selected for nomination in this competition and I never even thought about winning."
While Kitano was busy shooting Kikujiro, Saki had fallen and broken her leg. Due to her high age, she wouldn?t heal properly and gradually became weaker and weaker.
She was hospitalised far from Tokyo, so Kitano could only visit her, when he had the time to afford the travel. Kitano was with her every day, either in thought or at her bed. It affected
him to such a degree, that he would insert a scene for her in Kikujiro, where he would go and see her at the hospital.
When he returned from Cannes, her condition had became worse and on August 22, 1999, Kitano Saki would die peacefully in her sleep. She was 95. Kitano would cancel all his
work and for three days he would spend time with her. He arranged, that a special purple coffin was made especially for her and it was placed in a sea of white flowers. It was a huge
funeral, both celebrities and fans would attend, and the Japanese prime minister, Keizo Obuchi, would send flowers.
"I always watched my mother working so very hard and crying. I can never thank her enough. I will try my best to do better work."
In 2001, Kitano's autobiographical account of his childhood, and his parents, "Kikujiro to Saki", was published. In this very personal last memory of his parents, Kitano descripes
various episodes involving his parents, like when his oldest brother wants to introduce his girlfriend to his mother only, but the girlfriend insists on meeting his father aswell. The book
was the same year made into a TV-special, introduced by Kitano himself, and then later in 2003 made into a ten episode mini-series.
When in Cannes with Kids return, Kitano had met Jeremy Thomas. Being old friends and not having seen each other for thirteen years, they had dinner and talked about
old days. During their talk, Kitano mentioned the idea for Brother and that he would like to shoot it in the USA. Thomas liked the idea a lot, but they never got to talk about it
in depth, as Kitano left for Japan the next day, to begin the production of Hana-bi.
A year later, when Kitano came to the London International Film Festival with Hana-bi, Thomas and him would get together again. Thomas had thought a lot about the
idea and wanted to produce it; So he proposed the idea to Kitano, who in turn immediately said yes. On their return to Japan, Kitano and Mori began preparing the idea for
Brother while making Kikujiro.
Making a film in the USA did present both Kitano and Thomas with some problems. For Thomas, he needed to create the exact same environment that Kitano was used to in
Japan, since, as Thomas said: "It was important that he (Kitano) continued to work the way he was used to in the past. For the best results, Kitano needed to be able to work
comfortably." For Kitano the problem was to create so much free time, he normally would work ten days on his television production, then ten days writing books, writing scripts
or directing / editing, that he could be in the US for the shooting period. Thus, over the next months, Kitano would shot so much television footage, that he could spend seven weeks
filming in LA.
Originally, Kitano had written the story to take place in New York, but he needed the proximity of suburban communities, so they chose Los Angeles instead.
Fearing the worst from the American crew, Kitano was surprised to discover, that all rumours were untrue. The American crew was not lazy, quiet the opposite, once they got
moving, they worked faster than the Japanese crew. In fact, the only problem while shooting came from working with the actor Kato Masaya. He had his own ideas and Kitano would
get so upset, that he would yell at him. In the film, in the scene where Aniki tells Shirase to put out the cigars, its really Kitano yelling at Kato.
Kitano originally planned Brother to be the sequel to Sonatine, but something came in the way and the idea was shelved until he met Thomas in Cannes. As
such, Brother represents the old Kitano, the first period, and stands opposite the recently three "Angel" films. With Brother, Kitano also ended his period of
contemplation, on which he noted in an interview with Tony Rayns, "Brother marks the end of that phase. Perhaps Brother marks the point where my rehab after the accident is finally
The third period of Kitano Takeshi
The desire to create something new and completely original was the drive behind Dolls. Tired of having critics comment on his use of blue and of violence, Kitano
conceptualised a vision based on the writings of Chikamatsu Monzaemon. The film was poorly received at the time of its premiere, but in recent days, more and more see it as one of
this best films.
Following up upon Dolls, Kitano was talked into making a Zatoichi film by Mdm. Saito. Reluctant he had accepted and given carte blance, Kitano would
deconstruct the entire myth of Zatoichi and inverse it. His next project will most likely be a conceptualisation of cubism into film.
Meanwhile, he has turned to acting, feeling insecure about his own ability to act, and has the starring role in Sai Yoichi?s Chi to Hone. He also acted in Miike Takashi's
Izo, but only as a bit role.
The life of Kitano is very routine by now. He does his TV shows, he writes, he paints, he directs. But where there was a sense of hectic around him, there now seems to be a sense
of calm. He is getting older, which he has reflected upon in his last two books, "Growing old" and "Aging", but also in Dolls and Zatoichi, which has central motifs
dealing with where one came from and where one is now. As such, one can say that his work as gotten more serious.
Then again, Beat comes along and destroys any notion of seriousness. In most interviews, Kitano would comment on his accident as a blessing, something to contemplate,
something that matured him. Yet, in his writings, no such thing. While contemplating his near death experience in "Soredemo Onnaga Suki", Beat would say, "I was thinking,
'Maybe I should live a more thoughtful life, now that they have repaired me' Then my eyes caught the ass of the nurse, who just made my bed and my dick stood up instantly. Not a
This biography has to some extend focussed largely on the serious side of Kitano Takeshi. He also has his other side, Beat, who is a two faced clown, one side a clever satirist,
one side childish prankster. If anything, the life of Kitano has taught us one thing: never to second guess him about what he is up to. Kitano will always surprise us.
This concludes my biography of Kitano Takeshi. I hoped you have enjoyed reading it and that it will give you a new perspective on the art of Kitano Takeshi.
By Henrik Sylow (Kitanotakeshi.com February 2005). All rights are reserved by Henrik Sylow and Kitanotakeshi.com.