Through generally known to American audiences as the director of bloody,
violent art-house hits such as Fireworks, Sonatine and
Zatoichi, ?Beat? Takeshi Kitano is also one of Japan?s most popular
television personalities. He?s also a painter, a writer and a few other things.
We asked the cult director about the unique single-mindedness that it takes to
create such a varied work.
Your films Fireworks and Sonatine were most popular in Europe. So what are
your thoughts when you release a film for America?
Takeshi Kitano: Fireworks was shown in places like L.A. and New York,
but I don?t really feel like it was a great hit. For that reason, I don?t have
very high expectations.
Why do you think that is? Is it because your films are different from
standard Hollywood hits?
TK: Well, if one compares they two, then the scale is a lot smaller, and they
don?t contain the kinds of things that really excite the American audiences. It
makes one wonder who is going to be watching the films? (laughs)
Actor, director, comedian, writer? Is there a single method of expression
that you find the easiest?
TK: In the early days of plastic model kits, companies like Tamiya designed
the kits. We are talking about the job of first making the model, then one
separates the thing into parts and makes it into the kit. So, whether I am
acting or directing or doing entertainment on TV, in the midst of that there is
the same kind of idea as with the people making the parts for the kits in the
model shop. I think of myself in this way. So I think that all of these things
are not really completely separate at all.
While making Fireworks, you produced a lot of paintings, but since then
you have not really exhibited any of your work, have you?
TK: That makes it sound as though the paintings just circulate of their own
accord. Well, for all intents and purposes, I suppose they do? They?re not
exactly the kind of thing that?s normally good enough to show. Actually, I
usually give most of my paintings away. Most of the paintings from
Fireworks were given away to small restaurants and the like. However, my
office says that they made a note of where all of the paintings went. There was
talk of some situation arising when we may need to borrow the paintings.
With Zatoichi, what kind of difficulties did you encounter in trying to
turn such a popular series of films into a film?
TK: Well, it was really something that I did because I was asked. I couldn?t
just make a copy of what (the original director Shintaru) Katsu had done. I
can?t mimic that. But Zatoichi is blind and is a master swordsman and is also a
masseur. One can?t change those things ? they make up the whole base of the
film. I did, however, change things such as his hair color, the color of his
sword cane and his clothes. Also the speed with which he moves around was
increased. But it doesn?t really matter how hard you try and change things. It
won?t really change much, because we both started with the same story. There is,
however, a bit of a gap between Katsu?s era and today: films have a certain
rhythm, like music, and the pace in the old days was a little more sedate. Now
we are more concerned with this rhythm. That?s why I added stuff like the tap
dancing. I was most concerned with things on the side that would really add to
the film. After all, however one makes the film, it is basically just the story
of Zatoichi going to unknown towns where he helps fight against bad guys and
then disappears again. Apart from that, there is not much else to do.
With Sonatine, Violent Cop and also with Zatoichi, there is what you might
call a ?calm violence.? This is something very unique to your films?
TK: Well, how can I explain? If one things in terms of the way (Akira)
Kurosawa frames things: he would place all the actors within a defined frame,
and get angry if an actor moved only a fraction out of the frame. I think if
Kurosawa went to a safari park in Africa he would probably tell the lions how to
act when he was filming them. With me, I would probably just step back and film
the lions. That?s how I am. So, therefore, the way the actors are placed within
the frame when filming is different. Kurosawa is obsessed with that kind of
thing. (Nagisa) Oshima, too. But there was nothing before them, so they were
putting the rules together.
We are the second generation. We have to make things that really blow people
away. But there is nothing that really starts here. The techniques come from
America and Europe, and the Japanese follow by using that information and by
looking at the skilled people from over there. We have reached the point where
many modern people really dislike that idea, and it is about moving slightly
away from these basic standards of filmmaking. So one could say that my films
have moved away from these standards. Or maybe I purposefully don?t worry about
Are there any Western directors that you have been influenced by?
TK: It?s an odd story, but I only started to know about foreign directors
when I was making Sonatine and Fireworks, and I would often be
invited over there. When I was answering their questions, I realized, ?Oh, I
really should watch some foreign directors? work!? I was asked that question
before I had even been influenced by anyone!
Is there anyone who really made an impression on you?
TK: When I was a student, I saw some pretty intense stuff, but I can?t really
say whether they were actually good films or not. If you include things like
that, then I would say Cannabis with Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg. At
that time, it was a bit shocking. I keep thinking that I should watch it again,
but I never have any time. I also watched Pietro Germi in The Railroad
Man with my older brother, but I guess I just thought ?This is a sad film.?
The other day I saw a film about young Brazilian gangs, and I thought, ?Wow,
this guy does some amazing editing!?
Your films seem to be more about violence than action. Godard once said
that the blood in his films simply meant ?red? and nothing else. What meaning
does blood hold for you?
TK: When I use it, I think of it as soy sauce, but maybe foreigners would
think of it as some other kind of confiment (laughs). That?s all I really
think about it.
People like (Quentin) Tarantino and (Takashi) Miike use bloody scenes in a
very cheap way, but the blood in your films seem more warm and real.
TK: Well, I think it is simply the fact that different people put a different
amount of sauce on a beef cutlet or on a potato croquette. Some guys make it
swim in sauce. Maybe it is the same as the difference between people who can
enjoy vulgarity in a vulgar way and people who can?t really enjoy vulgarity.
Out of all the films you have made, is there one that really sticks with
TK: Getting Any? was criticized as my worst film, but for me it was my
magnum opus. If you think of it from a standpoint of comedy, everyone wasn?t in
fits of laughter when they saw it, and the jokes were really nothing special,
but rather it is making fun of comedy itself. It is laughing at my own
comedy (laughs). Well, that doesn?t mean I can?t make a real comedy, but
I don?t really want to make that kind of thing, anyway. I only realized later
that it had turned into something that I was making unfunny on purpose. They
called it the worst film ever, but it was the most interesting.
Your films always seem to have a kind of absurdity. Even Zatoichi doesn?t
really have a happy ending, with everyone beaten to a pulp and dying?
TK: First of all, you have the bad guys, and if we talk about what they are
going to do, they are going to kill regular people aren?t they? In American
films such as Speed or Die Hard, the amount of people that are
killed is pretty amazing, and moreover the hero kills a load of people,
so the idea of having a happy ending is a bit of a dirty trick. I think that
guys who kill people have to be prepared to die themselves. Relatively speaking,
my films are more painfull. So in America they say, ?Why do you like violent
films?? But I say to them, ?So your films aren?t violent? Like when an airplane
full of innocent people suddenly falls out of the sky?? ?No, that?s
entertainment!? The picture I paint is more painful to watch.
Is there anyone you?re watching out for in the film world in Japan at the
moment? A certain director, for example?
TK: If we?re talking about rivalry, if you have the same kind of audience,
then you?re fighting to attract that audience. But my audience is completely
different, so there is none of that. My audience is my audience.
What kind of people do you think make up your audience?
TK: People who think that it is not good just to watch Western movies.
Perhaps they see the films and think that the films are trying to express
slightly complex ideas. The fact is that (the films) don?t actually say
anything. I had some films that were a big succes, but I don?t really care. But
I guess there must be people out there who like that kind of thing. I want
absolutely nothing to do with that kind of thing. The reach of my work is
certainly becoming narrower and narrower, because I don?t make compromises.
However, I do think that if I do that kind of thing, then maybe some
people will come and see it. But I?m not making it for the general audience.