Director: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Yusuke Sekiguchi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Yûko Daike, Kazuko Yoshiyuki
Writers: Takeshi Kitano
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Production: Japan, 1999
Runtime: 121 minutes
Welcome back to Film Focus this time I bring you a very simple but moving film. This is without a doubt one of favorite movie and I have to say that I feel a little bit identified with the main story. Done by Takeshi Kitano in 1999 this simple movie about a road trip has all the qualities of this great director, you would laugh and get sad more than once. The movie was nominated for the Golden Palm (Cannes Film Festival) in 1999. With this film Kitano seem to return to his roots as a writer and director of dramatic movies.
The film tells the history of Masao a boy that lives in the suburbs of Japan with his grandmother, soon the holidays arrived and he discover that all his friends are away with their own families. With the soccer class also on vacation, each day ends alone painting in his dairy. Masao´s father died soon after he was born, and his mother, whom he has only seen in pictures, was working somewhere far away. One day Masao decides to visit his mother, but there is a problem, he is too young to travel alone. Therefore, a friend of his grandmother commissions her husband (Kikujiro) to take Masao to see his mother in Toyohashi City in Aichi Prefecture.
Kikujiro, an ex-yakuza, is a “free man” that has never had a serious job in his life. Now unemployed lives on what his wife makes. He has a personality a little bit rough and always seems to be seeking for fights. Kikujiro´s wife gave him 50.000 yens as traveling expenses but a different plan is born in his head. Therefore, he decides to gamble the money on the bicycle racetracks. After some tries, they hit the jackpot with Masao´s innocent guesses. The ambition of Kikujiro takes him to bet repeatedly but he quickly meets a losing streak that left him almost with no money. Angry and bitter Kikujiro goes for a couple of drinks. Masao who wasn’t allowed in the bar is taken away by a “dangerous man” that nearly molested him, but Kikujiro finally saves him. The tears in Masao´s face, because of the situation, bring Kikujiro back to coherence and decide to take Masao to see his mother.
I don’t want to tell so much about the movie but after some hitchhiking that evolves funny situations, the two “boys” arrived at Toyohashi City. The film comes to a tense atmosphere when Kikujiro realize that there is a different name placed on the house. Before getting, the chance to ring the bell, a little girl and a man comes out of the house greeted by some woman. It´s clear that Masao understand the situation but Kikujiro tries to calm him down by saying “It must be a different person”. Kikujiro tries to cheer up Masao, by giving a glass angel he took from some Harley bikers, he then say “Your mother moved away, but left this for you. She wanted to have it when you came. If you are in trouble, ring this and an angle will come to help you”. Seeing that things turn bad they both decides to have some fun before they return to Tokyo.
On their way, back they enjoy the summer festival in a local town but once again, Kikujiro get into trouble, as he is beat up by the local mafia. They also camp with some friends they meet early in the movie (the Harley bikers and the novelist wannabe). It’s interesting to see how all the grownups put aside their differences to cheer up Masao with different games and so happy time passes equally for both the child and men.
During the trip Kikujiro identifies with Masao as he also know little about his mother. Very early in the movie, its state that Kikujiro´s mother left him when he was young. As Masao was having a good time with their new friends, Kikujiro decided to visit his mother at an old-age home. There he discovers that his mother appears to be a very lonely and sad person soon his face is shadowed by this deep sense of loneliness and sadness. Without a word, he leaves the place. The summer holidays are almost over so it’s time to say the farewells for our protagonist. Upon finalizing the trip both characters manage to grow a little, Kikujiro returns a more loving and compassionate person and Masao discovers that the life is not as easy as they painted in movies.
If you want to go under the skin of the movie, you could say that Kitano explores alienation and inclusion in Japanese society as for the main characters and those who help them along the way can be considerate as the outcast of normal society (not being part of the traditional family or group structure). In my opinion the movie tries to give a positive message, it doesn’t matter how hard life can be the important thing is to have friends/family by your side to support you.
Despite being a drama, the comedy touches that Kitano add to the movie are very well handled through the movie. This movie can be compared, for the type of filming, with “Scene set against the sea” (1991) another movie done by Kitano. One thing to notice is that in this movie, the physical violence is somehow implicit or you can’t see it on screen this is because it´s pointed to the whole family. As for the music, Kitano select, once again, Joe Hisaishi a great composer who manages to do a great work with the soundtrack (check the YouTube link). Well with nothing more, to say I close today’s review as always if you want to comment just do it. Thanks for your time.
By Sebastian Nadilo
Scene to see: Masao and Kikujiro Hitch hiking (No subtitles but you dont need them to understand it)