Saturday, December 08, 2007

Who Are You Going To Be When You Get Here?
Thank you for your work, Beat Takeshi...

One of my primary film enjoyments in life come from a stocky dynamo of creative force, Kitano Takeshi. Whether it's something he directed himself, or something he just starred in, I tend to enjoy this man whose mind and spirit always seem to be somewhere else, but who still maintains a screen presence like few others.

I first came across him when his directorial debut A Violent Cop had set the cinephile world abuzz. Come to think of it, I think it was in England's film mag Empire...since even many things "movie" in America still have an allergy to most things subtitled. In any event, I tracked down a copy...and well, hey, I didn't really like it much at the time. I couldn't, however, deny that he was definitely on to something.

Time has passed, and I've consumed many of the things Kitano that I've been able to lay hands on (and I admit that those who guffaw at copyright laws have been most helpful where American distributors have failed me). I can still picture one of his most tender moments where after playing a brutal thug for the better part of two hours he still tugs at the heart strings by repeating "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" to Tom Conti at the end of Oshima's film of the same name. But it's Sonatine and Fireworks that still remain at the top of my Kitano fact, atop the heap of some of my favorite movies ever.

So last night, I sat down to watch his last (well, the latest one I could get ahold of)...

Takeshis' (2005 , d. Kitano Takeshi)

The Story: Once successful Japanese media icon Kitano Takeshi meets his doppelgänger, we follow the twin Takeshi through a dreamy journey of what it to NOT be successful Japanese media icon Kitano Takeshi...sort of.

The Review: Ok, let's just start this by saying that if you don't know anything about Kitano's life or work, you might still enjoy the film but you're going to be missing out on a whole lot of subtext. And let's counter that by saying that even if you do know a fair bit about him, you still might not enjoy the film and there's likely even more subtext that's zinging over your head. I enjoyed the hell out of it personally, but then again I tend to really enjoy what others consider "failure" if the makers are at least really trying to do something with it. (And I wouldn't call this a failure...)

Granted, it's two years after the fact and I'm only just getting to watch the movie, but I remember the critics being none to kind to this one. Looking back (having now watched the movie), it seems in many ways to be a case of a critical darling falling out of favor by not delivering what's expected of him. I admit, even for myself, that I missed Kitano's usual mixture of elegiac thoughtful beauty smashed together with brutal quick violence in this one. However, (and I sometimes have to chastise myself for forgetting,) there's a joy in seeing an artist grow, branch out, and try new things.

As the story progressed and the life of the sad sack struggling Takeshi became more and more outlandish, I kept thinking that it was like watching Kitano do Fellini in an exploration of filmic identity along the lines of David Lynch's recent films. That's not to say it was wholly derivative of those filmmakers, because this one's very much a personal project. Then I went back and did a little reading on the film, and found that it's being described as the first of Kitano's "self-deconstructive" films (The plot of the next one sounds even more Fellini...). In the end though, the problem therein lies.

Like any text, whether it be movie, book, or artwork. To some degree it has to stand on it's own. Not everyone going in has had access or exposure to the elements the filmmaker brought to the piece. Furthermore, even those who do like to wax intellectual about creative work don't always want to invest the time to learn more about any one piece.

So does this movie stand on it's own? To be honest, I'm not sure. I couldn't watch it as a neophyte, and I enjoyed a lot of it knowing what I already did about it's creator. That ultimately taints my ability to judge. From that stance I can say that large portions of it did work, it certainly was entertaining, it certainly had wit and depth...but, I'm not sure where it was ultimately trying to get to...

I could sit here and philosophize about the exploration of alternate realities and how, like life, they wouldn't necessarily have clean clear cut conclusions either...but it's not my place to justify the work. Not only that, but it'd be pretty arrogant of me to think that I could. It was a challenging piece of artwork that engaged me for it's run time, and I'd watch it again. So from my point of view, pretty successful. At the same time, I can see where a goodly proportion of my friends and family would not be so generous with it. (From a few I can hear the "Huh?"'s and "That sucked!"'s from here...)

So I say...if you enjoy dream-like experimental films that explore the nature of film, character, film violence, and image while having a healthy dose of a wacky sense of humor...I can't see where you can walk out of Takeshis' having gotten something for the ticket price.