Takeshi Kitano

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Takeshi Kitano
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Takeshi Kitano

Takeshi Kitano (北野 武 Kitano Takeshi) (born January 18,1947) is a Japanese comedian, actor, author, poet, painter and film director who has received acclaim both in his native Japan and abroad for his highly idiosyncratic cinematic work. He uses his pseudonym Beat Takeshi (ビートたけし Bīto Takeshi) for all works other than as film director.

His films are usually dramas about gangsters or police, characterized as being highly deadpan to the point of near-stasis. He often uses long takes where nothing appears to be happening, or with edits that cut immediately to the aftermath of an event. Many of his films express a bleak or nihilistic philosophy, but they are also filled with a great deal of humor and remarkable affection for their characters. Kitano's films paradoxically seem to leave controversial impressions: while formally disguised as dark comedies or gangster movies, the films raise moral questions and give food for thought. While Kitano's international fame continues to rise sharply, Japanese public knows him more as a TV host and comedian. His portrayal of Zatoichi in the 2003 movie by the same name is said to be his biggest domestic commercial success. Kitano is very careful as far as interviews are concerned, hiding his enigmatic personality behind a mask of a 'funny regular guy'. His attitude towards religion is not known, though he interviewed Shōkō Asahara, founder of the controversial Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, on at least two occasions, a fact little known outside Japan.

Contents

Early life

Born in Adachi, Tokyo in 1947. After dropping out of Meiji University, where he studied engineering for four years, he found work as an elevator operator in a nightclub and learned a great deal about the business from the comedian Senzaburo Fukami. When one of the club's regular performers fell ill, Kitano took over in his place, and started his career.

In the 1970s he formed a comic duo with his friend Kiyoshi Kaneko. They took on the stage names Beat Takeshi and Beat Kiyoshi; together referring to themselves as Two Beat (sometimes romanized as The Two Beats). This sort of duo stand-up comedy, known as manzai in Japan, usually features a great deal of high-speed back-and-forth patter between the two performers. In 1976 they performed on television for the first time and became an instant success, propelling their act onto the national stage. The reason for their popularity had much to do with Kitano's material, which was much more risqu in comparison with traditional manzai. His subjects were often the socially vulnerable: the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, children, women, ugly and stupid people. Complaints to the station led to them prohibiting certain jokes of Takeshi and editing the footage for offensive dialogue. Two Beat dissolved when Kitano decided to go solo, but they were one of the most successful acts of their kind during the late 70s and 80s.

Many of Kitano's routines involved him as a gangster or other "heavy", and his first major film role, Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (where he starred opposite Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Bowie) featured him as a sadistic POW camp sergeant during WWII.

Film career

After several other roles, mostly comedic, in 1989 he was cast in the lead for Violent Cop (Sono Otoko, Kyōbō ni Tsuki) as a sociopathic detective who responds to every situation with violence. When the original director fell ill, Kitano offered to step in, and rewrote the script heavily. The result was a financial and critical success in Japan, and the beginning of Kitano's career as a filmmaker.

Kitano's second film as director and first film as screenwriter, released in 1990, was Boiling Point (3-4X Jūgatsu). Masahiko Ono plays the lead role of a young man whose baseball coach is threatened by a local yakuza. He and a friend travel to Okinawa to purchase guns so they can get revenge, but along the way they are befriended by a psychotic gangster played by Kitano, who has his own revenge to plot. With complete control of the script and direction, Kitano uses this film to cement his style: shocking violence, bizarre black humor and beautifully shot 'still' scenes.

Kitano's third film, A Scene at the Sea (Ano Natsu, Ichiban Shizukana Umi), was released in 1991. It featured no gangsters, but instead a garbage collector, who is determined to learn how to surf. Kitano's more delicate, romantic side came to the fore here, along with his trademark deadpan approach.

Foreign audiences (that would outnumber his domestic audience in the coming years) began to take notice of Kitano after the 1993 release of Sonatine. Kitano plays a Tokyo yakuza who is sent by his boss to Okinawa to help end a gang war there. He is tired of gangster life, and when he finds out the whole mission is a ruse, he welcomes what comes with open arms.

The 1995 release of Getting Any? (Minna Yatteruka!) showed Kitano returning to his comedic roots. This Airplane!-like assemblage of comedic scenes, all centering loosely around a Walter Mitty-type character trying to have sex in a car, met with little acclaim in Japan. Much of the film satirizes popular Japanese culture, such as Ultraman or Godzilla, and even Kitano's own gangster movies.

In 1995, Kitano was involved in a motorcycle accident and suffered injuries that caused the paralysis of one side of his body, and required extensive surgery to regain the use of his facial muscles. (The severity of his injuries was apparently due to him not fastening the chin strap on his helmet.) Many in the foreign press speculated that he might never be able to work again. Kitano put any such thoughts to rest by making Kids Return in 1996, directly after recovering. At the time it became his most successful film yet in his native Japan.

After his motorcycle accident, Kitano took up painting. His bright, simplified style is reminiscent of Belarusian painter Marc Chagall. His paintings have been published in books, featured in gallery exhibitions, and adorn the covers of many of the soundtrack albums for his films. His paintings were featured prominently in his most critically acclaimed film, 1997's Hana-bi (released as Fireworks in North America). Although for years already Kitano's largest audience had been the foreign arthouse crowd, Hana-bi cemented his status internationally as one of Japan's foremost modern filmmakers.

Kitano has continued to work regularly since his accident. Kikujiro (Kikujirō no Natsu), released in 1999, featured Kitano as a ne'er-do-well gangster who winds up paired up with a young boy looking for his mother, and goes on a series of misadventures with him. Brother (2001), shot in Los Angeles, had Kitano as a deposed Tokyo yakuza setting up a drug empire in L.A. with the aid of a local gangster played by Omar Epps. Despite a large buzz around Kitano's first English language film, the film was met with tepid response in the US and abroad. Dolls (2002) had Kitano directing but not starring in a film with three different stories about undying love; it met with unfavorable critical and public reception.

Between the underwhelming response to Brother and Dolls, Kitano became a punching bag for the press, who wondered if he had lost his ability to make a good film. Kitano's answer came in the form of 2003's Zatoichi, in which he directed and starred. A remake of Shintaro Katsu's 1970s film series, Zatoichi was Kitano's biggest box office success in Japan, did quite well in limited release across the world, and won countless awards at home and abroad.

Kitano also stars regularly in other films. Among his most significant roles were Nagisa Oshima's 1999 film Taboo (Gohatto), where he played Captain Hijikata Toshizo of the Shinsengumi; and "Kitano" in Battle Royale (2000), a controversial Japanese blockbuster set in a bleak dystopian future where a group of teenagers are randomly selected each year to kill each other on a deserted island. He also appeared in the film adaptation of William Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic, although his on-screen time was greatly reduced for the American edit of the film.

Kitano is a regular collaborator with composer Joe Hisaishi, who has created the scores for most of his films.

Other work

Kitano has written over fifty books of poetry, film criticism, and several novels, a few of which have also been adapted into movies by other directors.

He has also become a popular television host. Takeshi's Castle, a game show hosted in the 1980s by Kitano featuring slapstick-style physical contests, has gained cult popularity in the United States (where portions are broadcast on Spike TV as MXC, formerly Most Extreme Elimination Challenge) and in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom where it was given a voiceover by Craig Charles. More recently, he hosted Koko ga hen da yo, nihonjin (roughly meaning "People of Japan, This Doesn't Make Sense!"), a talk show where a large panel of Japanese-speaking foreigners from around the world debate current issues in Japanese society. Another of his shows is Sekai Marumie ("The World Exposed"), a weekly collection of various interesting video clips from around the world, often focusing on the weird aspects of other countries, and with a regular section on daring rescues, taken from the American program Rescue 911. On this show, he plays the child-like idiot, insulting the guests and wearing strange costumes.

The now internationally acclaimed Takeshi Kitano was awarded an honorary Bachelor of Science in engineering by Meiji University on September 7, 2004, 34 years after he dropped out to pursue his career in entertainment.

Selected filmography

Director and actor

1989 Violent Cop (Sono otoko kyobo ni tsuki) (その男、凶暴につき)
1990 Boiling Point (3-4x Jugatsu or San tai yon ekkusu jugatsu) (3-4X10月)
1991 A Scene at the Sea (Ano natsu ichiban shizukana umi) (あの夏、いちばん静かな海)
1993 Sonatine (ソナチネ)
1995 Getting Any? (Minn-yatteruka!) (みんな やってるか!)
1996 Kids Return (Kidzu ritan) (キッズ・リターン)
1997 Hana-bi (Fireworks in North America) (花火)
1999 Kikujiro (Kikujiro no natsu) (菊次郎の夏)
1999 Brother
2002 Dolls (ドールズ) - director only
2003 Zatoichi (座頭市)

Actor

1983 Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Senjou no Merii Kurisumasu), by Nagisa Oshima
1995 Johnny Mnemonic, by Robert Longo (adapted from Johnny Mnemonic, a short story by William Gibson)
1995 Gonin, by Takashi Ishii
1998 Tokyo Eyes, by Jean-Pierre Limosin (French/Japanese movie)
1999 Taboo (Gohatto) (御法度), by Nagisa Oshima
2000 Battle Royale (Batoru rowaiaru) ((バトル・ロワイヤル)), by Kinji Fukasaku
2003 Battle Royale II: Requiem, by Kinji and Kenta Fukasaku
2004 Izo, by Takashi Miike
2004 Blood and Bones (Chi to hone), by Yoishi Sai

External links

es:Takeshi Kitano fr:Takeshi Kitano ga:Takeshi Kitano ko:기타노 다케시 it:Takeshi Kitano lt:Takešis Kitanas nl:Takeshi Kitano ja:ビートたけし pl:Takeshi Kitano pt:Takeshi Kitano sk:Takeši Kitano zh:北野武

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