Takeshis’ (2005)

Takeshis’ first published by Film4

Summary: Japan’s busiest all-rounder Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano plays both himself and his loser double in a surreally self-flagellating examination of his career to date.

Review: In his twelfth directorial feature, Takeshi Kitano turns inwards with the infuriatingly reflexive Takeshis’, wherein the different strands of his own personality, and the tensions between them, are placed under the harshest of spotlights. Here his humble past and superstar present, his different TV and cinema personas, his comedy and his action, his Japanese origins and Hollywood influences, as well as dreams and reality, fiction and biography, all face off with one another in a violently surreal shoot-out for supremacy.

With his younger girlfriend (Kotomo Kyono) and manager (Ren Osugi) in tow, big shot celebrity Beat Takeshi (Beat Takeshi) is getting ready to perform the final scene of a TV yakuza drama, when in the studio’s dressing room he runs into a reserved, bleached-blonde clown extra called Mr Kitano (also Beat Takeshi) who bears an uncanny resemblance to the superstar. Wondering what his lookalike’s life is like, Beat falls asleep on the make-up couch and slips into a neurotic dream in which Mr Kitano is an ordinary loser who works in a convenience store, is ridiculed by his neighbour (also Kotomo Kyono), and is forever failing auditions for bit parts. This dream version of Mr Kitano in turn dreams of becoming a success like Beat, or at least of becoming one of the anti-heroic characters that Beat plays; and Mr Kitano’s opportunity seems to have come when an injured yakuza stumbles into his store, leaving a big bag full of guns…

Takeshis’ is Kitano’s 8 ½ via Mulholland Dr., a nightmarish trip through the subconscious of a man whose career has always been schizophrenic. At home in his native Japan Kitano has enjoyed astronomic popularity since the Seventies as a stand-up comedian and variety entertainer on the small screen (as well as being the author of over 50 books), whereas abroad he is better known for the brooding tough-guy image that he has cultivated on the big screen since the nineties in a slew of explosive yakuza dramas (Boiling PointSonatineHana-Bi, Brother) – although he has also made films in many other genres, ranging from melancholic comedies to period pieces to pure arthouse fare (Dolls). Even in the credits to his films he is designated by his nickname (‘Beat Takeshi’) as an actor, but by his ‘real’ name as writer, director and editor.

If these different aspects of Kitano are at the heart of Takeshis’, so too are the filmmakers’ anxieties, both about the value of his work, and about the close proximity of his success to failure. Far from celebrating his past, Kitano seems more concerned with trying to shoot it down, no matter how often it keeps coming back to haunt him. So for all its self-indulgence, Takeshis’ is also a deeply self-critical portrait of an artist very much at odds with himself.

Although it brims with references to Kitano’s filmography and biography, and constantly switches from film worlds to studios, from dreamscapes to stage acts, and from auditions to alternative realities, Takeshis’ is an oddly flat affair, with gags that are low-key at best, and gun battles whose spectacle seems increasingly empty. Even the extravagant song-and-dance routine near the end seems cheap and overlong. No doubt Kitano’s point is to expose the vapidity of all that he has done before, in a statement of artistic self-repudiation that is underscored by the film’s many images of suicide – but that, alas, does not mean that Takeshis’ always makes for entertaining viewing. It does, however, raise the question of where this versatile director will go from here, or as the gun-toting yakuza (Beat Takeshi) at the film’s beginning and end asks: “What now?” 

Verdict: Bold yet bland, this dreamy survey of all things Kitano sends several bullets into his past and puts a question mark on his future.

© Anton Bitel