Takeshi Kitano interview
Phil Hoad talks to Takeshi Kitano about the long delayed release on DVD of a film he made in 2005
Takeshi Kitano has shown signs of eccentricity, but what happened to his filmmaking in the 2000s was weird even by his standards. Slipping tap dancing into a samurai film in 2003’s Zatoichi was the early-warning beacon, but that was nothing compared to the surrealistic wormhole – the trilogy of Takeshis’, Banzai! and Achilles and the Tortoise – he slipped into immediately afterwards.
Takeshis’ which stuck in the wormhole for five years before finally emerging now for UK release, plays, like the other two, with aspects of the Japanese icon’s past and public personas: a meeting between ‘Kitano’, a fame-seeking, bottle-blonde convenience store clerk, and arrogant celebrity heavyweight ‘Beat Takeshi’ is what sets this showbiz fever dream alight. It’s definitely not autobiographical, says the real-life Kitano. ‘Not to overvalue my modesty or anything, but I don’t act as arrogantly as my character in the TV studio.’ And don’t make the mistake of taking the film as a self-referential dip in Charlie Kaufman territory: ‘The biggest subject of this movie is not so much about the matter of fame, more about the two characters having the same kind of dream, and how those dreams end up intertwining with one another. I thought if I gave one my directorial moniker and the other my stage moniker, it would give a kind of authenticity – or to use a contradictory term – a reality to the dream. That’s the main focus – it’s more about dreams and reality.’
Kitano calls the 2005 film his first attempt at ‘cubism’, and its stream of idiosyncratic imagery is clearly picking up cues from his visual-art exploits — recently showcased in a major exhibition at the Cartier Foundation in Paris. He acknowledges that the film is not for everyone: ‘I wouldn’t say I was afraid of alienating people, because I knew ... the majority of people are going to go, “What the —?” But I also knew that the small amount of people who got the film would get it enthusiastically.’ But the esoteric Takeshis’ feels as much for his benefit as for ours, its disorientation ploys a way of piercing the boundaries of his past incarnations. He says that his late-noughties trilogy marks his transition from middle to old age. In which case, what to make of the news that his next film, Outrage, will be a return to the staple of his filmmaking heyday, the yakuza thriller? Rejuvenation or retrenchment? It’s clear that Kitano, as director, always feels the pressure to get things right.
Takeshis’ is out now on DVD (Artificial Eye).