Review: Kikujiro (1999)

There’s a very good movie waiting to be discovered inside the bloated mess that is Kikujuro.  Almost every shot in the film has excess that should have been trimmed.  This two hour feature could have easily been cut down to 90 minutes without missing a beat.  Writer, director, and star, Takeshi Kitano, must have been so in love with every single moment of film shot (mostly of himself)  that he had to include it all.

There’s actually a lot to love here, but it’s buried in the bloat.  The basic story involves a journey for a deadbeat asshole (Kitano as the title character) and a numb eight year old named Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) to the home of the boy’s mother.  The setup really isn’t important.  What’s important is Kikujiro’s ability to get into trouble and the increasing hilarity and tension this produces.  There are some genuine laughs here, and Kitano is wonderful in his role but, like I said before, a little trimming would have worked wonders.

The boy acts as both an audience for Kitano’s character and an object of concern for the audience, but there’s almost no character there.  He basically stands around and occasionally reacts, but I wonder what the film would have been like had Masao been written as a whole character.

There are the usual fanciful strokes that often seem out of place in Kitano’s films, and they’re equally out of place here.  Dream sequences abound and do little to inform the feelings of the main characters or expand on the shoestring plot.

The film as a whole shows us a lot about life in modern Japan, and that’s where I found it most interesting.  It was nice to see the real Japan through the eyes of the Japanese rather than filtered through the prism of Hollywood.  The images are clean and bright, and the DVD transfer is very good.  I just spent more time looking at the backgrounds than was intended.

All in all, this plays like what it is – a vanity piece for Kitano.  I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re already a fan and, even then, it may try your patience.

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