[...continued from Flowers and Fire ]

Kitano Takeshi talks to Tony Rayns about editing the head and challenging dead.

Tony Rayns: What was your starting point this time?

Kitano Takeshi: I wanted to show how a Japanese man tries to handle his own responsibilities. The way Nishi does this may well be different from the way a man in another country would do it. Actually, many present-day Japanese will very possible see Nishi?s behaviour as overly romantic or sentimental, or at least rather out of date. But the way he discharges what he understands to be his responsibilities conforms with an ideal which has existed in Japanese society at least since the Edo period. You can see this ideal in action in many of Chikamatsu?s plays, for example.

Was Nishi always so taciturn? Or has his wife?s illness and the death of their child made him this way?

I think he was born silent. If this kind of guy became silent, it would mean he was running away from the calamities in his life. I?d prefer to see him as someone who challenges death, not someone who runs away from anything. I think he?s my first character to try to challenge death.

Horibe also challenges death by rejecting decisively the option of suicide. Was it your intention from the start to build the film on a comparison of these two?

It?s not so much that I want to compare them. I want to use both of them to challenge the traditional Japanese idea of the family. Husband, wife and kids are regarded as the cornerstone of Japanese society - happily ever after. But the reality is nothing like that. The Japanese notion that families are inherently tight-knit and emotionally secure is a fantasy, and I wanted to challenge it. For example, if a husband is injured and forced to stop working - as happens to Horibe in the story - his family may very well collapse. In my eyes, the way that Nishi tries to comfort and support Horibe is very foolish. Nishi sends the painting materials to Horibe because he himself feels guilty, as if he was somehow responsible for Horibe?s plight. It gives the false impression that they were not only colleagues in the police force but also very close emotionally. It would have been better if Nishi had simply offered to load Horibe some money to help get him through his difficulties.

But the fact that Nishi gets Horibe painting turns out to be very important in the film?s scheme of things. There?s a mysterious correspondence between Horibe?s pictures and Nishi?s life...

I?ve always thought of art more as a private thing than as a social thing. I?m not much of an artist myself, and so I?m not very sure about these things, but I feel that paintings and drawings - and films or music or whatever - can very easily become mirrors to their creator?s own life. When Nishi sends painting materials to Horibe, it?s probably because he wants to encourage him to get his personal feelings on the paper somehow.

It can?t be coincidence that Horibe takes up painting just after an incapacitating accident, as you did yourself.

I?d never say this to the Japanese press, but as it?s you who?s asking... I took up painting not only because of my road accident and because I had a lot to think about but also because I?d just been dumped by a long-time girlfriend. So I was spending a lot more time at home than usual. And my wife is very strong and healthy, not al all like Miyuki in the film.

I was impressed at how fast you edited the scene I watched being filmed in the Azalea Mall scene, and I?m even more impressed to see how you?ve integrated that sequence - and a couple of stray images from it - into the overall flow of the film. Do you mentally pre-edit your films before you shoot them?

When I?m in good shape physically and mentally, I find myself rolling the scene in my mind the night before I shoot it. That particular night in Kawasaki was like that. All I had to do was follow the scene as I had it in my head from the day or night before. On the other hand, when I?m not in a good shape it doesn?t work. No matter how hard I try on the location, the scene never quiet comes together.

So how do you cope with that?

Usually by trying to copy the directors I?ve worked with as an actor. That?s to say, by shooting lots of covering material. Just to give me leeway when it comes to editing. When I?m not in a good shape, I can?t tell which shots I?ll need and which I won?t. In that situation, to tell the truth, I usually try to discard the scene altogether. Of course, if it?s essential to the story I can?t do that.

Any special reasons for having a real-life boxer play the bad guy in the mall scene?

The one thing in that scene which didn?t work out quiet as I foresaw it was the fight. When the bad guy hits Nishi, I wanted to show what it looks like when a real boxer throws a punch. I thought the best way to do this would be to have a real boxer punching Nishi. But it doesn?t work on screen quiet as I expected it would.

The final structure of the film is the most complicated you?ve ever attempted. How much of the cross-cutting was planned and scripted?

I did have the structure in mind when I wrote it, but it was resolved in the editing. This is much less linear than my other films, and the editing is more "mathematical". I try to "factorise" the carious elements and to link them through the editing. The paintings and drawings were very important for that process; if they work in the film as I want them to, they can crystallise the tone and meaning of each "factor" in the story. But it?s very possible that I?ve failed...

Are you planning to pursue this direction further? Or will you go back to the social-realist vein of "Kids Return"?

I saw Kids Return as the film of my rehabilitation as a director...

Rehabilitation from the accident or from "Getting Any?"?

Both! Actually, what I have in mind right now is a project that combines elements from my thrillers with the comedy of Getting Any? The first hour of it would be in the same general realm as Sonatine or Hana-Bi. It would end, the credits would roll. And then it would start again, exactly as before, but gradually turning into a parody of the first version. That?s what I?m thinking of at the moment.

By Tony Rayns (Sight and Sound, December 1997, page 26-29). All rights are reserved by Tony Rayns, Sight and Sound and The British Film Institute (BFI). The article is reproduced by Kitanotakeshi.com with the kind permission by Tony Rayns.