This interview was conducted Wednesday the 31th of August at 4pm in the Lancaster hotel in Paris.
- Interviewer: How and when did you think of the idea of Takeshis?
Kitano: Some ten years ago, while I was making Sonatine, I came up with a story about a taxi driver, who, while waiting for a costumer to show up, fell asleep and dreamt of a yakuza giving him a gun, which then caused him to plot revenge on everyone who in the past had humiliated him. He then, in his dream, would go out and kill these people, until the police begins to chase him and finally chase him back to his taxi, where he then was shot. And the bang-bang-bang of the guns would wake the taxi driver up, as it was the costumer who knocked, knock-knock-knock, on the window of the taxi. That was the very first idea for Fractals, and it was written over ten years ago.
After Zatoichi, I decided it finally was time to make Fractals into a film, but it was very unorganised and needed substance to solidify the idea. I then came up with a completely disturbed and warped idea, to create two doppelg?nger characters and name them after my stage name and my real name ? Beat and Kitano ? and to play the characters myself.
But while a lot of the story changed making it into Takeshis?, I never changed anything about the structure of or the concept behind Fractals. The idea that reality and imagination, and later imagination and dreams, would blend into each other, and that the story would become increasingly fragmented and blurred the more they did, is still intact.
It is a very confessional film, not in the way of exposing myself, of who I am, but confessional in the way of me making Zatoichi, which while being a very successful film, it was never a film I wanted to make. What I really wanted to make was this film, a film which comes deep from my heart, so its confessional in that sense.
- How much of you is in the characters of Beat and Takeshi?
The character of Kitano is based on what I was like before I got famous, where I worked odd jobs, amongst them shopping clerk, and going from audition to audition and failing and failing. So he is partially based on the experiences I had as an aspiring stand up comedian.
Some part of Beat is based on how the public sees me. Many people think of my films as very violent and of me as this cold stone-faced killer, who just shoots everyone. So that part is also in the film.
- This may well be your most violent film to date. Your alter ego?s imaginary Beat character basically shoots up everything and at everyone. More than that, you exaggerate the use of guns, in one scene even having a machinegun in each hand shooting endlessly without reloading.
In Japan it is almost impossible to get a gun. Only the police and the yakuza have guns. But the interesting thing is, that before guns, it was the katana, the sword carried by samurai, which symbolised power, and those who legally were allowed to carry the katana were very aware of both its power and the responsibility that followed.
But with the gun the awareness of power and the responsibility disappeared, as it is very easy to kill someone with a gun. All it takes is a bang and that even from the distance. It takes no skill or intelligence. So there is a mental aspect in today?s use of guns versus the use of the katana in the old days.
So while an ordinary Japanese person would live his entire life without ever seeing a gun, it has become the object most associated with power, and in an imaginary world it equals power.
- In the beach sequence, where you shoot up an endless army of policemen and samurai, are you making fun of yourself or is there another significance?
It is not so much making fun of myself as it is to depict ?myself? in the way I am perceived by the audience as the icon of Beat who just shoots up everything.
But it is also very much a critic of the way Japanese film portraits yakuza, the police, samurai or any other icon as stereotypes and by showbiz clich?s. But as I?ve used these myself as an entertainer, the critic is also aimed at myself. There is a lot of self-reflective elements in the film, and of them all, the beach scene almost feels like a catharsis, blasting all these images away.
- In a previous scene, the club scene, you just end a perfectly weird musical sequence with just shooting everyone. To me it is very frustrating. How is that catharsis?
It is indeed frustrating and there is almost all the time something annoyingly disturbing about the entire tone or feel of the movie, as you aren?t getting what you want from me. And this is why I ended the club scene with a giant shootout gunfight, just as later on the beach.
It is like having a dream where you hope to have one exhilarating experience, but then it ends with something you didn?t expect, that you hoped wouldn?t be there and / or that gets in the way. And that was my intentions when structuring many of the scenes.
- Like by having Kishimoto Kayoko coming into the beach scene and stealing your money. Is that you showing us how images come and disappear in ones dreams?
Yes it is. Sometimes something comes in the way of your imagination, either directly or in your dreams, and that is why Kayoko suddenly comes by and steals the money. It is very frustrating when it happens.
This is also why I think that the audience won?t be able just to sit back and say, ?Ohh, this film was enjoyable?. By adding these frustrations to the viewing experience of the audience, I?m making them frustrated aswell. It all comes down to presenting my vision.
- Returning to speaking of catharsis, the scene where Kitano attacks Beat with the knife and in some weird way performs hara-kiri on him, is that also a catharsis moment? Is that you attacking yourself for the sins of the past?
No, not at all. It is actually a very pragmatic scene based on one of my nightmares, as I often dream of obsessive fans and about the possibility that this really could happened, which is why I always travel with a lot of assistants.
- All the violence aside, what surprised me the most was your depiction of frontal nudity and suggestive sex. This is the first time you used nudity and sexuality in your films. Why now and how did you approach it?
To the why now, why not (Kitano laughs). It is all just good fun, and that is also how I approached it, in a very light-hearted and casual way, like showing DJ Hanger is scratcing a vinyl record and then cutting to him scratching the girls breasts.
If you go to any working-class neighbourhood, you will see pretty girls being very decent during the daytime but naughty during the night time, and people will make jokes about that and tease the girls with it. It was with that attitude I approached it.
- One of the most intriguing images, I think, is the image of an American soldier from the second world war pointing his rifle at you, which you open and close the film with. It is sort of out of context.
Actually a French journalist just asked me about that exact scene and if it was symbolic for how American culture is invading Japanese cinema, and I thought to myself, and then answered him, ?Maybe you?re right.? (Kitano laughs)
The scene with the American soldier was based on a dream I had when I went to collage, where I dreamt going to fight the Americans in the Pacific war during WW2, where I was left for dead and where an American soldier finds me and ends up shooting me.
The reason I added the scene in the film does not suggest any deeper meaning, but for me it was a way of showing in what weird ways our mind plays tricks with our memories. When you wake up, you have the weirdest dreams and all sort of images come together and I wanted to show exactly that.
- Another intriguing image is you overlapping the image of a studio lamp with the close up of the sun. Apart from being yet another memory, was it in also an homage to Kurosawa and Oshima, who previously also shot the sun?
It neither is or was meant to be a reference to my senior filmmakers, Kurosawa and Oshima, but was based on a real life experience. When I was a collage student, I was living in this very shabby, dirty and cheap place, where I always was awoken by scorching sunlight hitting my face and noisy cicadas. So the reason for that cut is very trivial.
Contra to that, it was one of the most difficult shots to make in the film. I worked very closely with my cinematographer Yanagishima on this shot. I had no idea how difficult it was to get the right image of the sun. You simply just cannot put the camera directly at the sun and get a specific image. Its easy to just point the camera at the sun at get a sunrise or sunset, but to get that specific shot, to capture the heat and massive light from a sun at noon, while at the same time having the image of the sun clearly defined by the blue sky, by just pointing the camera and controlling the exposure was next to impossible. And neither of us knew that until we tried to do the shot, so it was very educational for us both.
- When you talked about editing Zatoichi, you talked about how the use of a films rhythm had become very important for the way you edited a film. But as Takeshis? is completely defragmented and deconstructed, and without any consistent rhythmic music, so how did you find the rhythm to edit it?
I was very conscious of the idea of rhythm when I edited the film. Not in the same way I approached Zatoichi, but in a different way, that I as a filmmaker felt uncomfortable.
By uncomfortable I mean, and I hope that goes for the viewers aswell, that one with this film cannot just sit back, relax and enjoy the film in a comfortable way, but where one has to focus very carefully to be able to follow the flow of the film. One needs to look very carefully at even the smallest details of each frame, listen carefully to even the most trivial dialogue, to study tiny visual hints and how they lead up to a sequence that follows.
Being very fragmented in narrative, made it also so in rhythm, and I found it to be very much a cut and paste rhythm, where I could deconstruct (cut) even a single frame and then paste it in where in where I wanted it to be. So being conscious of this, I became aware of and felt the films deconstructive cut and paste rhythm.