Top 10 Kitano

Having just purchased and watched Dolls, I realised I had seen 10 of Takeshi Kitano’s films. It’s safe to say he is my favourite director. It means I’ve now seen 10 of his oldest 11 films, the odd one out being Brother which quite frankly I have little interest in. At some stage I will complete a fuller list and review of his films since they are all worth watching, and many of them are wonderful films.

 

I will go in reverse order so as to build to Number 1.

 

10. A Scene at the Sea – Somewhat of a disappointment, although I’ve only seen it once, I never really felt attached to it. Features wonderful music though as normal from Joe Hisaishi.

9. Boiling Point – It’s an okay film. Very offbeat. There are some really good things about it, but honestly, half of it makes no sense whatsoever. Great cinematography.

8. Zatoichi – Putting it 8th seems unfair because it’s a very enjoyable film and perhaps Kitano’s most accessible work in that it feels quite Westernized. Good film although I don’t know anything about the previous iterations of Zatoichi and I’ve heard from some fans of it that the film is a disgrace to the work that went before it. Go watch it anyway.

7. Getting Any? – The only comedy I’ve seen from Kitano, it’s a fun romp and while a quarter of it will go over your head, there is enough there to keep even the most close-minded viewer laughing for some time. And it contains one or two hilarious references to Kitano’s gangster films – look out for Susumu Terajima ripping it up as the “continually getting killed Yakuza”.

6. Kids Return – I’ve posted about this before. It’s a very good film and very enjoyable but it’s missing some magic along the way.

5. Kikujiro – A stunner which can be watched by lots of different people. Old or young you will enjoy it. Always charming and affectionate without being saccharin or overbearing. A gorgeous film to watch, go see it!

4. Violent Cop – Kitano’s first film is still one of his best. Extremely enjoyable cop movie, some great performances and very “film-noir”, it was made in 1989 but outside of one or two things, doesn’t look like it’s aged a day, something which can be said for many Kitano films.

3. Dolls – Sublime. Some audio sync problems distracted me for the first half hour, so I hope you don’t have that kind of problem! Anyway, once I got into the film I grew very fond of it, 3 good stories mixed into one effortlessly watchable meditation on love and tragedy. Stunning photography, it’s really really beautiful.

2. Sonatine – Another Kitano cop movie, but one that constantly surprises with it’s gorgeous direction, humorous banter and stellar performances from Susumu Terajima and the lovable Masanobu Katsumura.

1. Hana-Bi – Still in my eyes the best Kitano film ever. It’s just a perfect cop movie, but at the same time, not a cop movie. I can’t say much more about it than that it’s absolutely spellbinding. Go buy it, it’s £3.99 on Amazon, you owe it to yourself to buy this film. It will open you up to a whole world of amazing Japanese films.

Pretty much…

the best uniform in sport.

In Review – Death Note (Series)

First thing’s first. Death Note is the first anime I’ve ever seen – I was bored one afternoon and wanted something to watch. Secondly – if you’ve never watched an anime because it’s “for kids”, now is the time to change your opinion. Death Note is dark, watchable and entertainingly plotted. Its’ yummy, easy to digest 20 minute episodes and tight, tense dialogue lead to a constantly engaging, enjoyable and surprising TV show. It also lead to me finishing the entire thing (37 episodes) within about two weeks, which was both simultaneously wonderful and disappointing. Death Note definitely isn’t for those looking for a longer running anime like Bleach or One Piece, but it is effortlessly enjoyable and mixes tense dialogue dripping with subtle humour on an episode-to-episode basis without losing it’s way in an overall story arc.

Okay – so here’s the concept. A death God from another world (shinigami) drops a ‘death note’ – ostensibly some kind of blank journal –  into the human world, after he realises he is bored with the life (or death?) of a death God – he and his fellow shinigami sit around playing poker, gambling away years of their existence as currency. Young Light Yagami picks this up while at school, and at first is initially skeptical of the description written upon this ‘death note’, “the human whose name is written in this note shall die”.

You may have noticed it doesn't actually say that on this picture. Feel free to scribble it down on your screen for true authenticity

Suffice to say though, Light’s curiosity gets the better of him and when he finds that indeed this ‘death note’ does as it says, he endeavours to rid the world of all criminals, saying he will bring justice to the world. As part of his taking of the ‘death note’, the shinigami – called Ryuk – who dropped it becomes visible to Light and while neither helping nor hindering him in his goals, informs Light of the potential consequences of using such a ‘death note’. The relationship between Light and Ryuk is often compelling and while never overtly emotional, there is a tangible sense of companionship – particularly when Ryuk has a revelation in the form of the human-world apples – that is enjoyable and humorous but also tainted with a deep sense of foreboding, as Ryuk is a death God that not only enjoys the struggles and pains of the humans he gladly watches, but who also knows the lifespan of those around him.

One of the other more interesting aspects of Death Note is the moral one and it is constantly being asked during the show, “is it right to kill criminals in the sake of justice and improving society?”, and overall the writers do a far better job than that of the cop-out that was Minority Report and it’s half-hearted moral ambiguity. While no character truly comes down on either side of the fence, there is enough content there to make you consider your own stance on the matter, and it’s done in a way that isn’t preachy or jarring.

Death Note is a greatly twisted monster in it’s approach and this invariably leads to much of the constant tension surrounding the first 15 or so episodes. While there is enough action to keep the more blood-thirsty viewers out there happy, it’s real genius lies in it’s dialogue and the relationship between Light, who says he represents “justice”, and the police force. This takes the shape of a daring game of cat and mouse throughout, and although the show sadly takes something of a dive between episodes 20-28 or so, it soon enough just about manages to regain most of it’s previous form and marches on towards it’s (slightly uninspiring) ending.

Gotta catch 'em all - oh right, different show

It must also be said that both the animation team and the original Japanese cast (I watched a fan-sub) do an excellent job in the way of consistently dark yet often humorous scenes. The OST accompanying the show is also fantastic ; again, it is dark and usually gloomy, keeping the same set of around 4-5 tracks in each episode, which gives the show a deep level of continuation, which I really enjoyed and is a far cry from the more usual TV shows where new music is placed into a show apparently with little care or attention.

I only have one major criticism and this largely concerns one plot element, and so I think it would be something of a spoiler to reveal it to you. Essentially, my view on this particular plot point is that it was a real shame that it was never expanded upon, and having been given such attention at a relatively early stage, it made me wonder why the writers included it at all. It seemed like an unnecessary plot device that, well, never became a device. There was little need for it in the story outside of a couple of key events, and even then, I feel there might have been a better way of dealing with those.

Overall, Death Note is exciting, dark, funny and a riot to boot and I seriously recommend it for either the anime-lover who has not yet got round to it, or a complete newbie like myself.

Carrollometer says :

(That’s 4.5/5 to you)

In Review – Kids Return

I’ve now watched Kids Return twice, and I thought I’d better write something about it. I watched it the first time a few days after Christmas, having received the Takeshi Kitano box set of 6 films. I love Kitano. And I watched it a second time a few days ago after being slightly underwhelmed the first time.

Kids Return has a lot going for it. Directed by one of my favourites, no, my favourite director, it had one of the greatest trailers I’ve seen. It wasn’t flashy, it wasn’t too assuming or ostentatious. It was just.. right. Here it is :

 

Maybe it doesn’t have the same feeling to you. Every time I see it I get hairs standing up on the back of my neck. The music, the naturalistic lighting, the people running to that music, the boxing, the grey appeal of Japan in the 1990s. From it you can see the nostalgia, the relationship between the two young boys, you know there’s going to be humour, tears, everything. Right?

Well, it doesn’t. And for those reasons, it is both essential Kitano viewing in the sense that it does without the sentimentality or the nostalgia, it foregoes the genre cliches and is a far more intelligent and wiser view of young people growing up in Japan. Yet simultaneously it has less of the enjoyment of some of Kitano’s other works like Sonatine or Kikujiro, both which actually have an air of sentimentality but still cramming in all of Kitano’s visual and theatrical delights.

It is beautifully shot in a very natural style which is effortlessly watchable and the characters are always compelling, there are some very good performances throughout, including that of Moro Morooka who plays Hayashi, the lazy and selfish boxer who offers Shinji an alternative way of life.

The truth is, I feel like I have been let down by what is still a very good film, in the sense that I expected it to be outstanding. The music is still fantastic, as you would expect from Joe Hisaishi, and it’s very enjoyable, but the truth is I still feel like I’m not quite getting the full enjoyment that so many other seem to. It’s not my favourite Kitano film by any means, but if you’re in any way a fan of his, or indeed 1990s cinema, it’s still a must-watch.

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