a i it In Japan TAKESHI KITANO — aka ‘Beat’
l ' .
— is a megastar; in the West he’s a cult
movie icon. Miles Fielder explains why this 60-year-old, who’s just made a
samurai flick, Zatoichi, is as hip as he is.
akeshi Kitano is the epitome of cool. When
performing in front of the camera. under his
stage name ‘Beat‘ Takeshi. his signature expression is blank. his craggy features cemented in place apart from the occasional twitch. Whether he's playing a hit-man embroiled in a yakuza gang war (.S'onutine). a retired cop taking his terminally ill wife on a tender last trip around Japan (Hana-Bi). or a blind swordsman in his latest film. Zutoiehi. ‘Beat‘ remains emotionally reticent.
lce cool looks apart. Kitano’s generated a hell of a lot of kudos during his two decades of tilmmaking. The idiosyncratic mix of explosive violence. dcadpan humour. narrative dexterity and. yes. emotional depth has made his early genre-busting crime tnovies (1989's Boiling Point. l‘)9()‘s Violent ('op) cult classics. As Kitano expanded his range to make films (1999's Kikujiro. 2002’s Dolls) beyond the genre bed by then reinvented. the writer—director-editor-actor became an internationally recognised figure in cinema — Hana-Bi won the prestigious Venice Film Festivals Gold Lion in 1997. and Zutoiehi has just picked up the Silver Lion.
Zainir‘lli is only the second film based upon an idea not originated by Kitano (the other was his debut. Violent Cop). ‘lt was proposed to me quite unexpectedly by Madame (‘heiko Saito. one of my mentors.’ says Kitano. ‘She was a good friend of the late actor Mr Shintaro Katsu. who starred in the original Zatoiehi series from 1962—89. A few years ago she asked me if I would make a Zatoiehi sequel. There was no way I was going to replace Mr Katsu. but I finally gave in on one condition: I would be allowed to make the film any way I wanted.
‘I saw no point in trying to impersonate Mr Katsu‘s version of Zatoichi.‘ Kitano continues. ‘My Zatoichi is a pretty eccentric person. He has platinum hair and a blood-red cane sword. In terms of mentality. my Zzitoichi is far more emotionally detached.’
Born in Tokyo in l947. Kitano is nearly ()0 years old and is still considered hip by the kids (how hip
26 THE LIST 18 Mar 1 Apr 2004
‘ZATOICHI IS A PRETTY ECCENTRIC PERSON: PLATINUM HAIR AND A BLOOD- RED CANE SWORD'
was ‘Beat' beating school kids to pulp in the ultra— violent social satire. Butt/e Rom/("Pl Glossy magazines run articles on him: clued-up filmgoers flock to arthouses to see his flicks. And the critics marvel at Kitano‘s films: in the West they write time and again of his ‘freshness‘ and ‘ability to surprise‘. It‘s a rare thing. indeed. for a veteran filmmaker to retain such a refreshing air about his work. Meanwhile. in his home country. Kitano’s nothing
short of a megastar. He first made a name for himself
in the late 1970s as part of comic duo the Two Beats (hence the acting name). becoming one of the leading lights of the man/.ai (stand-up) boom. That led to television work as presenter. host and actor. He also writes novels. essays and poetry. and does cartooning and painting (you can see his artwork in Hana-Bi and Kikujiro). Not bad for an old man.
Like other popular Asian cinema auteurs. John Woo for example. Kitano‘s been wooed by l‘lollywood. His one American film. the culture clash gangster caper Brother. is Kitano's least idiosyncratic film to date. Nevertheless. the shocking juxtapositions of inertia and violence (chopstick stab to the eye. followed by signature facial twitch) marks Brother out among its lesser genre siblings. and saw ‘Beat‘ act his American cousins off the screen — by doing nothing. After Brother Kitano. unlike Woo. returned home. where his remarkable creativity continues to ﬂourish.
Savager violent with its arterial sprays and amputations (‘Beat' performs his own fights. with eyes shut). Zoloir‘hi‘s also alarmingly funny. signing off with Kitano‘s take on the traditional Japanese folk dance ending. here transformed into a tap dance routine backed by a hip hop soundtrack.
That‘s pure Takeshi Kitano.
With thanks to GNER for facilitating travel to London. Book now at www.gner.co.uk. See review, page 27.
Lights, camera, action. . .
LATE BREAKING NEWS: THE Glasgow Film Theatre has announced a programming change to Mva! Spanish Film Festival (GFI' 28-31 March, then Edinburgh Filmhouse 2-8 April). The scheduled screening of Descongélate! (Chill Out!) on 28 March has been replaced with Los Lanes 3! Sol (Mondays in the Sun). Those who had purchased tickets for the cancelled ﬁlm might find consolation in Los Lunes, Spain’s 2003 Oscar submission, winner of ﬁve Goyas (Spanish Oscars) and a film boasting one of the country’s finest actors, Javier Bardem (Live Flesh, Before Night Falls). Clouds and silver linings.
THE EXTENSIVE PIER PAOLO Pasolini retrospective arrives at the Filmhouse on 25 March, playing the work of the late. great Italian neo— realist through to mid-April. Opening with Pasolini’s debut. 1961 ‘s Accattone. and including his Marxist reading of the life of Christ. The Gospel According to St Matthew (outclasses Mel Gibson's hammer horror. The Passion), the season Closes with the auteur's most infamous film. Salo, or the 720 Days of Sodom.
FROM ART TO ARSE (PERHAPS). Following in the footsteps of the revival by remake of American horror cinema of the 1970s (see also The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), comes a new version of George Romeo’s 1978 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead. Yet to be screened to critics, it remains to be seen whether the remake is a travesty or a triumph. Fans of the original flesh-eating orgy who made it into an advanced screening have reacted well, though. And don’t let the fact that screenwriter James Gunn penned the ﬂick between knocking off Scooby 000 and its sequel - Gunn got his schooling working for schlock factory Troma, where he wrote the modern trash classic, Tromeo and Juliet.
Consumerism at its worst