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Kikujiro Kikujiro

Wrapping up his director's statement regarding his new film, Kikujiro, Takeshi Kitano iterates that "I hope to continue upsetting people's expectations in a positive way."  The Japanese writer/director who plays the title role wants to show industry members and viewers across the world that he is more than a flashy director of Yakuza gangster cinema.  Under his stage name of Beat, Takeshi the author draws off of his native comedic entertaining persona and puts himself in a virtually non-violent film, looped with mushy situations, which arise from a titular freeloader who assists a nine year old boy on a search for his mother.

Essentially, Kikujiro works somewhat in its individual segments of unforeseen jokes, with a semi dark droll manner punctuating its episodes that sometimes have a mean streak.

Filled with much imagery that would seem to be intended to display Kitano's artistic flair, this deadpan picaresque movie isn't very moving.  It's maudlin exercise wears out its welcome even though its unsentimental style and take on childhood is an admirable change of pace from his action hits like Hana-Bi (Fireworks). Yet Kikujiro, with Kitano's strange personas on view, will be viewed by westerners as an eccentric Japanese Hallmark card, a far east version of Adams Sandler's Big Daddy.

The character playing opposite the blank faced granite like Kitano is the one first seen after an animated preamble.  Masao, the young boy, endowed with ruefulness throughout much of the film by Yusuke Sekiguchi is alone at summer break from school, living with his grandmother.

The plot turns after the forlorn Masao secures a picture and address of the mother he doesn't know.  The orphan appears to be similar, but more introverted, than the runaway student in Not One Less, another luminous look at today's Japan, with more rural vistas.  So, the frank wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) of the gruff middle aged Kikujiro, who is close to Masao's grandma, urges the slacker to help him find his mother.  Both Kikujiro and wife sardonically mention their childhood both had mothers abandoned them when remarrying.

This tale's arc doesn't have too many sudden turns, as it's apparent that the surly father figure will develop a bond with Masao, even after he gambles away their travel funds at the race track.

Thus, the road excursions via hitchhiking has scenes lasting too long as Kitano has the two meeting a child molester, a nomadic poet with a white, 60's-ish van, and two quite amiable bikers.  How the interludes play out aren't easily forecasted as Kikujiro, who doesn't mention his name to Masao until the last shot, is a mischievous clown whether in a hotel pool or as a blind man trying to get a ride.

There are two telling emotional moments that Kitano stages well, a painful moment when they  find Masao's mother coming out of her home and Kikujiro's observance of his own mother in an old age facility.  But, for its tenderness, Kitano teeters back to goofy playfulness that just keeps Kikujiro drifting along.

Climaxing well before the last act, Kitano goes off on a tangent, locating the picturesque sea, as more skits are set up with the travelers, the poet and the bikers, in a placid theatrical form, with most of the participants in their undergarments.

Kitano demonstrates an empirical touch with offbeat people and a catchy, but overdone score.  But what is creditable, doesn't make the family dynamics of Kikujiro resonate with the sound of Masao's Angel Bells.

 
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