This talkshow took place Friday the 23rd January at 5pm at IFFR. In front of a cheering audience, Tony Rayns talked with Kitano Takeshi and showed videos (some old clips from "Kitano Castle" and the music video his daughter Kitano Shoko), while sharing a bottle of expensive Grand Cru wine. This is a edited transcription of the Talkshow.

Tony Rayns: I brought a couple of small things on video. One is a examble of Mr. Kitano?s TC work, not familiar to most western audiences. After it, I will show you (adressing the audience) his first music video, which is another one of Kitano?s works you havn?t had a chance to see.

I think we should start by talking about "Zatoichi". I heard that the idea to make the film wasn?t yours, but the idea of a lady called Madam Saito. Could you explain a little about this?

Kitano Takeshi: There are many interesting people in Japan. One of the most famous of them is Yakuza and I do not say that Madam Saito is Yakuza; she is not. She manages many theatres, like striptease theatres, hostess bars, where the ladies offer small services. She is a lady, who has had a very strong influence on entertainment history thruout Japan. While Mr. Katsu Shintaro was alive, she was his patron and a very close friend. She was a financial supporter of Mr. Katsu?s activities and she borrowed him tons of money, about $30 million. After his death, her interest became directed towards me. She called me and said:"It had been a while since Katsu passed away and I believe you should make a new Zatoichi". I politely declined her offer, but she looked so intimidating. So I was forced to say, "Yes".

Mr. Katsu made more than twenty "Zatoichi" movies and the image of Zatoichi is completely associated with him. I said to myself, I have to make something different. So I told Madam Saito, that I wasn?t interested in making another, the same, "Zatoichi". I will call the film "Zatoichi" and it will be a period film and the main character will be a blind masseur and a master with the sword. But everything else will be entirely my creation. Is that ok? She said yes. So I began preproduction with my producer.

Madam Saito is one of the most influential persons in Japan. She is a kind person, who neither is afraid of police nor yakuza.

Tony Rayns: I am very curious about exactly what kind of pressure she put on you to make you work?

Kitano: The guy next to her didn?t have all his fingers!

Rayns: Zatoichi has several characteristics. One of them is that he is blind. How difficult was it to play a blind man?

Kitano: When I normally act, with my eyes open, I usually look at my crew members, like the lighting director, the production designer, and the sound guy and so on. I have been working with the same group of people for many years, who are called "Kitano Gumi" (The Kitano film clew). These guys are no social and when an actor acts badly, they make discontent faces. When I act with my eyes closed, I don?t have to see their faces. That was the good part. That is also the reason why the actors in my films are so nervous. These clew guys are cruel to them.

On the other hand, I am not the sort of actor who can memorize my lines. So I usually ask the assistant director to hold up huge pieces of paper, on which all my lines are written. Even during takes I can sneak a peek and look at my lines and I don?t have to memorize them. With my eyes closed, I had a hard time using this technique.

Rayns: I think Marlon Brando did same thing.

Kitano: Many years ago, I used the technique while shooting some movie, and I could not read some difficult Chinese character. That was embarrassing moment.

Rayns: Other characteristic of Zatoichi is that he is a master of sword fighting. Are you a fantastic sword fighter?

Kitano: I did sword fighting before, but this was the first time that I had to do it with back hand style. It was the way Zatoichi held his sword. Usually Samurais held their swords with forward handing and back handing style was typically found with Ninjas. Back handing is very physically straining. I had to hold my sword very upward to be able to strike down. It strained my musles. The movement is very similar to the movement of the pitcher in a cricket game. So I practised this movement all the time. I even practiced in my car and frequently hit my driver.

Rayns: As you are doing back handing sword play as a blind man, it must be quite difficult to judge where to swing the sword and how far you can swing it, how to avoid serious damage to your following actors. Was that a problem?

Kitano: When you make "Chambara" in Japan, you usualy take some bad guys, get then into a swordfight where they hit eachothers swords, kill them and do it over and over again. However, I wanted my bad guys to be specific individual characters. So when rehearsing a specific scene, we called each actor, who would appear in the scene, in. We had choegraphed each movement precisely and we would practise it so many times, that we could do them with our eyes closed. And still, duting one rehearsal, the sword of one of my opponants nearly hit my eyes, it was stopped by my nose. I almost became blind myself during rehearsal. When I then shot the scene, I had to do it faster than during the rehearsal. It was hard, but we eventually managed to get it done.

Rayns: The other night you mentioned that the musical scene in "Zatoichi" came from Japanese period movies, especially Samurai movies. Could you tell more about this and your enthusiasm toward tap dancing? Does it go back to the days before you did TV work, or for that matter movies, when you were working at vandeville?

Kitano: I come from Asakusa, an eastern part of Tokyo, and the city used to have a very big comedian scene. That was where I trained as stagge comedian. As a stage comedian, in those days, you had to practise three things, which are playing musical instruments, dancing and sword fighting, in order to do comedy. I am often labeled as the last Asakusa comedian, because those who came after me didn?t have to learn these three elements. I am the last generation of the traditional Asakusa comedian. Back then I studied tap dancing for three years. The style I learned was "white" style, typically seen in movies with Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. Some years later, I came across the "afro american" style of tap dancing, like you see by Gregory Hines and Grover, and it was a totally different form of tap dancing. My interest for tap grew again and at the same time, I got acquaited with a group of dancers called "Stripes", whom I would work with on "Zatoich". As I mentioned the other night, in "Zatoichi", I always wanted to end the movie with a festival scene. Especially, I wanted to do my version of takatsuki dancing, known from Kabuki theatre, which is a form of tap dancing with wooden clogs. Today, very few know about, and fewer can dance, this form of dancing. I got the idea from the wooden clogs. But while writing the script, I realised, that it would too sudden, if I just used it in the festival scene at the end. So I came up with scenes, like the rainy rice field scene, like the house construction scene, where I introduced the audience to the rhythm and the tap, so that the audience would be prepared and would anticipate what came at the end.

Rayns: Many people know that you also are very famous on TV in Japan. You do TV shows almost every night and have done so for years and years. Do you think these jokes are typical for your work on TV? (Tony Rays is refering to a just shown sketch from "Kitano Castle", where Kitano imitated Zatoichi and made fun of him (Kitano: Zatoichi is blind, thus he has no idea what he does) ? editor)

Kitano: That was just one example of the sort of TV shows I make. I still do this sort of slapstick comedy show. But I also have a debate program, where I invite politicians and leaders, and debate current issues of either domestic or international political or social issues. I also have a science show, where we study things like the DNA structure and so on. Then, I have an art program, where I examine the works of van Gogh or Picasso. In the same show, we also have an artist competetion, where professional or amateur artists present their works and we give them a prize. Sometime we use that section of the show to show a short film. We do anything related to art. I am doing a lot of different shows on TV.

Rayns: Are they all funny or are some of them serious?

Kitano: My role in these shows is to turn everything serious into comedy by making offensive comments to the politician or the artist. I am a clown. Many politicians first agreed to be on my show, but then later would complain about my inappropriate comments.

Rayns: But they would have to know your shows and what you do on them...

Kitano: For many politicians, appearing on my show is good for their election, so they cannot resist.

Rayns: You still do quite a lot of TV shows, maybe not as many as ten years ago, but still a lot. Has your attitude to the TV staff changed since you became film director?

Kitano: Ten years ago I was doing eight TV shows a week, now I only do seven. But in Japan I am still a far bigger TV name than filmmaker. So in Japan, if someone adress me with "Mr. Director", I will become nervous and think, "Whom is he talking to (and about)?"

Rayns: Do those TV shows take much preparation? Do you have to think a lot about it?

Kitano: When planning or preparing a new program, I participate from the very start, by giving the producers a rough and cluetial concept of the show. When I work with the preproduction of a TV show, I present the producers with what I am interested in at the present moment. For instance, since I now am in the Netherlands, I would ask them, "Why don?t we do a show about the Netherlands?" and I begin to do research on the history between Netherlands and Japan, like Dr. Seybold, or the famous Judoka Anton Heasin and so on. I come up with the initial idea and give it to them.

Rayns: What happens to your TV shows, when you take time off, to go to festivals or when making a new film?

Kitano: Let me tell you about my weekly schedule. My driver picks me up around 12:30 and we arrive at the TV studio around 1pm. Then we have a meeting for an hour, where we discuss things, and start recording around 2am. Usually we record two episode er day, one for the following week and another for the week after that. Recording takes about four hours, so I able to get out of the studio by 6 or 7pm. Then I go to my rehearsal studio, where I practice piano or tap dancin. After a couple of hours of that, it is time for drinks and girls. But the girls don?t care about me and dump me, so I go home alone. The following week, I work on none TV work, like film, acting, writing, going film festivals and so on.

Rayns: You have a daughter and a few years ago, she decided to become a siner. So you made her music video.

Kitano: I am not sure if she is my actual daughter. Because I only had one... you know. (laughs)

Rayns: Didn?t you have DNA test?

Kitano: I am too scared to get the test taken. (laughs)

Rayns: Anyway, this young lady, whos name is Shoko, decided to be a singer. She made two singles, but then gave up.

Kitano: After the two singles were released and failed to do well, she told me, "The Japanese public have no taste and they don?t get my music. I am going to Los Angeles, where I can find my own audience." She then flew to LA and then suddenly she decided to become a lawyer. She came back to Tokyo and is now working for some lawfirm while studying law. Her plan, right now, is, to become a licensed lawyer in Japan, then go back to the USA and study law to become an international lawyer. She says, that she then will be able to help me, when I cause trouble.

Rayns: I heard different version of the story. I heard that she wanted to become lawyer, so that she could prosecute you.

Kitano: Possibly. (laughs)


Questions from the audience

Q1: In what periode does "Zatoichi" take place?

Kitano: The story is set at the end of the Edo perio, when Tokugawa was shogun. He was so from around 1600 to 1868, so "Zatoichi" takes place around 1850 or so. Im not sure.

Rayns: If you check Japanese history books, the period is also known as the "Tap Dancing Restoration". (laughs)

Q2: I have a question in two parts. The other day you commented on "Kill Bill". Is that because of the poor fighting techniques or because of an American imitation of a Japanese movie? (During the opening of "Zatoichi", Kitano said, "There are two samurai films out there, Kill Bill and Zatoichi, but only Zatoichi is the real thing" - editor)

Kitano: Since I heard that Tarantino would shoot a pastiche on Chambara movies called "Kill Bill", I had certain expectations to what he would do. My expectations were, that he would do very preposterous thins, which would be laughable to a Japanese audience. After I then saw it, the extend of preposterous things he was doing in the movie, was way beyond my expectations. At the end of the film, I began to respect and admire his willingness to go that far. I have to say, that I really enjoyed the movie.

Q3: Is there any connection between your version of Chambara and Kurosawa?s work, particular "Ran"?

Kitano: Actually, I worked with Kurosawa?s daughter on this movie. Her name is Kazuko Kurosawa and she worked as costume designer on this movie. When we were shooting the sword fighting scene in the rain, she stood behind me, so I told her, "What do you think? This scene is my homage to your father, it is "Seven Samurai" Kitano style. What do you think?" She said, "No way". Some days later, we were shooting the scene, in which a half naked farmer boy wearing Samurai armor was runnin around screaming. During the rehearsal, I told her, "This is my homage to "Dodesukaden", what do you think?" She just looked at me and said, "No. I don?t think so. It is nothing like that at all". So his family member has said that it is not a tribute of any kind.

The way I used blood and chambara in this movie is more influenced by Manga. Not a specific Manga, but I used the ideosyncratical way of presenting sword fighting, which we only can find in Manga. For example, sudden transitions from a wide long shot to the extreme close up, or the visibility of the blood on screen. Japanese Manga associations selected "Zatoichi" as best film of the year 2003. The cartoonists really respect my "Zatoichi"; probably they think I made a Manga film.

Q4: I would like to ask you about your paintings. Are there any plans for your paintings to come to Europe?

Rayns: I would like to mention, that Mr. Kitano brouht one of his paintings as a gift to Simon Field, the director of the festival. He painted a painting especially for Simon, as a thank you and fair well gesture. (Simon Field stepped down as director of IFFR and was one of the first Europeans to recognize Kitano and activily participated in bringing him out in Europe - editor)

Kitano: The reason why I brought a painting was, because this guy (Tony Rayns) and Simon were the first people in Europe, who had the courage to show my movies to a European audience. So when I heard, that this would be the last festival for Simon as director, I said, "Ok, I will go to Rotterdam with my Zatoichi." I wanted to give him something he physically can have. Of course I could afford to buy him some expensive wristwatch, but I thought that it would not be good enough, so I spend three nights without sleep painting him a painting. During the process, I made a typo. I missed the "n" in "Thank You" on the paintin, so I had to add the "n" later. I thought it would be more memorable for him than giving him something one can buy. (The painting is a roll of 35mm film, where each frame is a portrait of Simon Field and where his eyebrowns grow larger for each frame - editor).

About my paintings, I tend to give them away to my acquaintances. I have a few stored, but most of them are already given away. If I were to try to have an exhibition, I would have to find all my paitings and that would be difficult. The reason why I never have sold any of my paintings is, that I still don?t consider myself a painter, so I just give them away.

Q5: You mentioned that you don?t like CGI. Could you explain the difference between CGI and special effect?

Kitano: Film as a media is an amazing thin, despite of all the advancements in hard disc recording or CGI. Right now a TV has 1500 or 2000 dots on the screen, but that is nothing next to the capability of film. Watching something on film is hundred times better than watching it on a monitor. Personally I think that CGI should be the last result, not just to the film maker, but also to the actor. In "Zatoichi", I tried to shoot the scene where I have to shead my sword into the cane with my eyes closed. I tried countless times, but could not succeed, so I finally decided to use CGI for the scene. To try manually until the very end and then to concider CGI is an attitude in my filmmaking.

Rayns: Is there any plan to make musical film or Science Fiction?

Kitano: I don?t think I ever make a full on musical, but my film could be one, where the audience would say "Wasn?t it a kind of musical, wasn?t it?" after watching it. About Science Fiction, it is not something that is interesting to me. There are so many contradictions in it.

Since I am drunk, I am going to tell you this. Last night, I talked with Mr. Rayns and he mentioned something about the difficulty of becoming a filmmaker in Europe that those who want to become a director has to step up the ladder, one by one, like workin for some advertising agency or whatever. This (Europe) is a place, where you have very passionate followers of cinema and fans, something I feel most every time I come to Europe. What is the European film industry doing? Help these people! If I had enormous amounts of money, I would build my house into a palace, where film makers from all over the world could come and stay and learn to make movies for free.

Japanese names are in the traditional form: surname first. Many thanks to Tony Rayns for arranging this talkshow and to Usui Naoyuki for translating.

By Sato Yuu (original transcription). Edited by Henrik Sylow. The transcription is reproduced by kitanotakeshi.com with the kind permission by Sato Yuu. All rights are reserved by Sato Yuu and kitanotakeshi.com.