Kikujirô no natsu (1999)
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Beat Takeshi, or Takeshi Kitano is an accomplished man and it only takes a quick look at his Wikipedia page to see that. I feel bad that I've only ever seen one movie that he did which was the 2003 version of Zatoichi. It's a beautiful piece and a great update of the original. Kikujiro is a totally different beast though. It doesn't deal with gangsters or crime but instead it's a sentimental drama film featuring a man and a boy on a road trip.
Takeshi is definitely treading on unfamiliar ground with Kikujiro but the end result is an interesting marriage of style and theme. Beat likes his long takes and he likes cutting to right after an event has occurred. Those kinds of tricks just add to the overall quality of the film. All in all, Kikujiro is not a perfect film but it's strangely compelling and difficult to dislike.
Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) lives with his grandmother and he's a bit of an odd duckling. He's not very talkative, isn't very self-confident and he gets easily bullied without a fight. He gets the idea that he wants to see his mother who left him a long time ago and sets off on his own. He gets intercepted by a neighbor of his grandmother's who decides to make her husband Kikujiro (Beat Takeshi) accompany him.
Kikujiro is the opposite of Masao. He's totally self-confident to the point of being a loudmouth and he's kind of an idiot. At first he doesn't care at all about bringing Masao to see his mother and decides to go betting on bike races, wasting the money they have between them. It doesn't take long for Kikukiro to realize that he's got to get Masao to his mom. Despite his unfortunate quality of being a bit of a dick, you learn to like him as a character and he's good for some of the film's humour.
Speaking of the humour in the film, there are a couple of times where Beat's writing descends a little too much into slapstick. Slapstick can be funny at times but I think it goes a little overboard from time to time. The slapstick doesn't spoil the movie as a whole though and there are some very funny bits all the same.
Kikujiro is slow moving and it's patient. It doesn't rush from scene to scene and plays out in an episodic format. Each episode is like an entry from Masao's diary that goes through major events. It's cute, charming and it's got some wonderful music from Joe Hisaishi to provide an extra punch in the feelings department. It perhaps starts feeling a little bloated at the 3/4 mark but it's not a film to stop and not finish.
Kikujiro is a dramatic road movie that never tries to exploit its audience. It isn't melodramatic and it never fishes for tears. Takeshi has added the right amount of dramatic weight but as I said, the only miscue is the overuse of slapstick at times. Kikujiro playing an arrogant idiot is totally worth seeing and there's lots to like about Kikujiro, like its ability to portray drama with a tinge of humour.
He found myself laughing out loud so often while watching this movie. Kitano indeed has a great sense of humor!
I prefer his softer side. This, Dolls, and A Scene at the Sea are my top 3 Kitano films.
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In 5 official lists
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This movie ranks #36 in BFI's 100 Road Movies
This movie ranks #76 in iCheckMovies's Most Favorited
This movie ranks #210 in Tom Vick's Asian Cinema: A Field Guide
This movie ranks #785 in Doubling the Canon
This movie ranks #963 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema