Who is Takeshi? By Charles-Stéphane Roy
in 30th Toronto International Film Festival
Takeshi Kitano’s latest film is a schizophrenic run filled with metaphysics, bullets and Booby Deejaying. It is definitely not equivocal neither graceful, but thanks to the Yakuza God, wackiness is always a terrible thing to waste. Let’s second that.
Many considered that Japanese master Takeshi Kitano had achieved his most accomplished work with the acclaimed Zatôichi , which broadened his audience appeal outside of the arthouse circuit. Fortunately enough, he managed to reach a delicate balance between mass culture and hyper-stylization without loosing his auteuristic signature. And it was about time, since Takeshi has been running on pointless, uninspired material since the end of the ’90s. While money and recognition comes with success and nearly unanimous cheers from pals and peers, it is not surprising that his next project would involve… himself.
So what is Takeshis’ supposed to be, or at least, what was the film intended to be? An object of vanity? A statement on celebrity? A visit to the cineaste’s mental amusement park – think Dollywood staging up a Grosse fatigue musical – or the extravaganza of a self-made man with too much liberty and money at hand? Let’s say it enclosed all of that, but yet, it is something else, with a dreamlike elusiveness that’s sure to drive you crazy (for good or for bad reasons). But let’s be honest, to be surrounded by this many so-so hyped, half-baked acts, self-conscious oeuvres or useless glorifications of misery during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival gave the refreshing, funny and wildly loose Takeshis’ a plus-value. You’ll get stuck in a playful oasis where anything can happen, worst meeting best, but at the end of the day, you’ll definitely have a great time and yet be unable to recall what happened during the ride.
Instead of playing two characters, Takeshi develops a double variation of the image he wants or thinks he projects in the public eye – Takeshi Kitano, the merciless yakuza we’ve seen in countless films, and ‘Beat’ Takeshi, the insane deadpan TV icon. The latest wants to be like the famous one, but has to work in a kitsch convenient store between failed auditions for small non-speaking acting roles. We don’t learn much about Kitano during the film as we get struck with the lower-profiled ‘Beat’s slow transformation into the inexpressive one, emerging as a complex figure at last, half-Tati, half-Eastwood. We meet sumo twins, a giant rubber caterpillar, numerous tap dancers and other fierceful characters along the way, most of them ending up dead by shotgun. Takeshis’ is one of those rare films that doesn’t trap itself as a whole under any categorization or appreciative analysis; it’s rather designed as a mish-mash of inspired flashes and cheap thrills than a logical or focused mind trip, and a hard one to love from start to finish. Even if Takeshis’ proves to be his most personal effort so far, Takeshi remains a mysterious fellow who obviously adores nourishing this ambiguous and intriguing aura we have cherished over the years, even the bad ones. He may disappoint many, but never at the sake of boredom. And that’s the kind of spectatorship a lot of his contemporaries should learn about.