B Sound B
starring Takeshi Kitano, Kotomi Kyono, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi
written and directed by Takeshi Kitano
by Walter Chaw Midway between Fellini's 8½ and Bob Fosse's All That Jazz is Japanese auteur Takeshi Kitano's Takeshis', a film that indicates with its possessive title that it belongs to both the director (Takeshi Kitano) and star ("Beat" Takeshi); acknowledging that they're one and the same (Kitano is billed as the former when he directs, the latter when he performs), they each have a function and persona unique unto themselves. The burden of that division, which Takeshi has taken on since midway through Violent Cop, is illustrated in the picture as a series of fractures that meld reality with televisual reality and filmic reality--nothing so ostentatious as Sven Nykvist and Ingmar Bergman reflected in a mirror in Persona, but going so far as to have "Beat" Takeshi, dressed as a clown, refer to Takeshi Kitano as "that asshole." The omniscience of the director is referred to often in the text as casting directors (rather, actors playing casting directors, or casting directors playing themselves) remark that Yakuza never look like Kitano (who has made something of a name for himself as a Yakuza: he's a little like the Japanese Robert De Niro)--and yet the central narrative of the picture then involves the slow evolution of the actor who looks like Kitano into Takeshi Kitano's Yakuza persona. Kitano is thus marking the difference between the devices of the director and the relatively passive objectification that is the primary definition of an actor--between the godhead inscrutable and the subject humiliated, as well as the eventual bleed-through between the roles actors assume and the mold into which perception forces them.
Takeshis' is the very definition of solipsistic in that there is no other reality offered by the film than the one filtered through, or bounced against, Kitano. It sees him on the one hand as the most recognizable television personality in Japan (drawing the oft-made comparison of Kitano to Jerry Seinfeld in a sequence about a pair of Ramen Nazis ("No soup for you!")) and, on the other, as one of the most critically admired auteurs outside of Japan. In one moment it frames Kitano as a cultural pariah (a WWII Japanese soldier about to be dispatched by an American serviceman), in the next as a caricature of the bulletproof gangster facing off against a roomful of hitmen. It profiles his indignities dealing with the ridiculous egos of television freakshows--of which, he's quick to assure, he's one--while marking the capriciousness of an industry that picks a half-paralyzed old clown to be a megastar while leaving his doppelgänger to wilt in a convenience store under an oppressive Kevin Smith retail routine.
Safe to say that Takeshis' is more than likely an entirely useless artifact for anyone not already familiar with Kitano's previous eleven pictures. Key scenes from his films vie with major artistic motifs in repetitive scenes where Kitano guns down his loyal players in slow-motion, essentially rewriting masterpiece and piffle with the same arbitrary hail of bullets and reducing his sometimes-legendary portfolio to a series of formalistic tap-dances. A dance routine--a little like the one that ends his Zatoichi--involving a giant, stagebound caterpillar underscores Kitano's contempt for the kind of critical analysis of his canon that has made fanboys of more than a few of his foreign critics.
Yet Takeshis' is more complicated than a satire/excoriation of his own cult of personality, betraying a good dose of affection for his admirers along with a chiding discomfort with how arbitrary his ascension seems. It's arrogant and it's humble--a film that's at once meticulously controlled and hopelessly chaotic, a junction of oppositions in curt tension that are sometimes awkward, sometimes graceful, and always pointing towards the Herzogian philosophy that there is nothing substantively different about perception and reality. As his twelfth film and something he's identified as the last of the type of filmmaking in which he's been engaged for fifteen years, it's full of self-analysis, if occasionally too much self-regard--a nice collection of footnotes not entirely unlike the ironic, acerbic addendum offered "The Wasteland" by another narcissistic, culturally-riven, asshole. And, like Eliot's coda, it's only really useful as the grace note to more significant work.
Through parent distributor Warner Home Video, Seville offers Takeshis' on a Canadian import DVD in a bright 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that lets Kitano's colours pop while too often casting skin tones in various shades of vaguely-jaundiced. (One thing to be grateful for, however, is that this wasn't sourced from a PAL master, as Kitano's films so often are on these shores.) The DD 2.0 audio is fine for what it is: a downmix of a full-bodied 5.1 track that was for whatever reason not preserved for this disc. Without anything resembling special features (Seville has opted not to translate any of the Region 2 extras, and even the menu screen is static), Takeshis' demands here to be taken for only what it is. In truth, a "making of" for something as elliptical and self-aware as this would be the very definition of redundant, anyway. Originally published: January 8, 2007.