Takeshi Kitano is probably best known Japanese director working today, and one of the most famous Japanese filmmakers in the history of cinema. Kitano has a large following, especially in Europe, and has been receiving art house praise since the very early 90s. Thanks to films such as the poor, clip-show-like Brother and his very successful revision of Zatoichi, Kitano has even crossed over a little to wider, more mainstream audiences than I would have ever thought possible.
Kitano’s last two films, however, have not met with the same amount of success, splitting critics and audiences. This is because Kitano is on his new reflective kick, what he calls self-deconstruction and what is very easy to call self-indulgence. His last film, Glory to the Filmmaker, was a mishmash about a director unsure of what to do next*, a handful of parodies and references which eventually comes off the rails. The previous film, Takeshis’, was better received but perhaps less accessible. It was although Kitano was wracked with artistic guilt after being talked into making the commercially successful Zatoichi by Shintaro Katsu’s widow. Kitano had to atone by running away from the general audience again and reviewing what he’d done as a filmmaker, a kind of Howard Hughes reaction to letting Beat Takeshi, the ribald star, and Takeshi Kitano, the revered artist, touch.
For better or worse, Kitano’s new film seems to continue the deconstruction, but thankfully pulls the actual narrative away from himself a little. A new trailer has just been released for picture, due out in late September. In Achilles and the Turtle, Kitano plays a painter who has never met with much success, financially or critically, with his work, but is supported by his wife, played by Kanako Higuchi. The film also shows the pair as a younger couple, in which they’re played by Kumiko Aso (from Casshern and Yaji & Kita) and Yurei Yanagi (from Boiling Point and Getting Any?).
It may be too much for me to start supposing on the nature of the film based off the first trailer for the film, but I don’t think it’s too hard to see what Kitano is angling at with this one. Kitano, the cinematic artist, has not been appreciated in his native Japan, most of his kudos comes from overseas. On the other hand, Kitano is also a painter himself (he paints all the pictures that appear in his films) and his work in that field is well regarded at home. I remember several years ago, a mural by him was displayed in Haneda airport. But Kitano must wonder if his artwork would be popular or well regarded were it not for the fact that he was famous. Takeshis’ also dealt with a kind of what-if, a character in the film is a copy of Takeshi Kitano who works in a convenience store and dreams of being an actor.
But by virtue of stepping back just slightly from himself this film will probably be more enjoyable than the last few. A movie about an unsuccessful painter can be about a great many things that an audience can find in it. A movie about Takeshi Kitano rankling with public image is only really about that. The cast is good, with some old standbys like Ren Osugi returning. I’m also glad to see Yurei Yanagi in a large role, he’s been relegated to second fiddle in a bunch of horror films, maybe because he’s not very handsome, but his simple looking gape was wonderful in Boiling Point. Kumiko Aso I don’t like in any film she’s appeared in but maybe this is where she’ll turn it around for me. If you’re interested in watching the trailer, go to the address below. If you want to see a larger version, click on the icon with the plus sign to the right of the trailer window.
*By the way, I once read somewhere a die hard Kitano fan saying Glory to the Filmmaker was Kitano’s 8 1/2 (I suppose because of the director’s block and so on). To that I can only say I’m glad Fellini made Fellini’s 8 1/2.