Release date: 8th March 2010
Running time: 108 minutes
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Starring: Beat Takeshi, Kotomi Kyôno, Ren Ôsugi, Susumu Terajima
Studio: Artificial Eye
“500% Kitano - nothing to add” was the simple message that promoted Takeshis’ at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival: never could a description be truer. Not only did he write, direct, produce and edit the film, he also acted in it. Twice. So is this more than a little piece of self-indulgence for one of Japan’s most loved exports?
Takeshis’ kicks off with an overstated introduction to the Beat Takeshi that many hold dear. “Overstated” is the key word here; cheesy or even vulgar may be more accurate. Dialogue is sparse and gunfire plentiful as Kitano coolly takes on the room of enemies that surround him, naturally defeating the lot within seconds. Much to the viewer’s relief, this is not Beat Takeshi’s film: it is Mr Kitano’s latest effort.
Mr Kitano is a film star with a penchant for playing mah jong. Full of confidence and ego which is only multiplied by the gang of yes-men and women who surround him, he has developed a typical superstar attitude. This seems to be put on hold when he meets his timid look-alike. Also named Takeshi, this retiring stranger is struggling to break into Mr Kitano’s world of show business. The aspiring actor is first seen painted up as a clown, but there is nothing funny about the banality of his life. When he’s not acting the fool, he is trapped in a job serving ungrateful customers in a grocery shop, where his ambitions to become another Mr Kitano are stalled in reality, but fuelled in mentality. After their meeting, the film star speculates on the life that such a humble individual must lead, delving the viewer into Takeshi’s meek existence.
As the film progresses, identities interweave and merge as if being watched through bleary eyes, but somehow the distinction between the two main characters loses importance. Fantastic and bizarre scenes grow more prominent, further moving emphasis away from plot. There are even moments when Takeshis’ teeters on the edge of becoming a musical. The sporadic explorations of dance and movement that are scattered throughout the film come to a head about two thirds of the way through, to provide viewers with a spectacular tap number from dance troupe The Stripes, whom he also used in Zatoichi; but it’s when Beat manages to transform this into a tap dancing caterpillar that the film truly plunges into the surreal.
The first and last lines spoken in the film are “now what?” During the interviews included on the DVD, Beat Takeshi refers to Takeshis’ as a film to consolidate all his work to date, and implies that he is now looking to end that era and begin a new one. This sense of ambiguity is conveyed by the entire film, from plot to character identity. Mr Kitano discovers working class Takeshi and wonders about his life; Takeshi dreams of becoming his hero and has embarked on a journey to fulfil that. But, now what?
The film has an air of reflection about it, as a commentary on Beat Takeshi’s mindset and a commentary on the industry that he works in. The director-come-actor displays undeniable self-awareness in his portrayal of Mr Kitano and happily pokes fun at himself and at celebrity. The sight of Beat sombrely staring at himself from behind a mask of clown make-up is unlikely not to stir some kind of reaction from the viewer, be it a chuckle or an “aw” of sympathy for the reticent character onscreen.
“Acting isn’t easy,” Mr Kitano says early in the film, and Takeshis’ appears to be a chance for Beat to demonstrate that, but to also show he can do it, and he can do it well. Although he had an authoritative hand in most processes of making this film, attention seems to lie primarily with acting. Playing multiple characters in film is of course nothing new, but Beat really does prove himself capable and willing to experiment. The two Takeshis initially are two completely separate characters. Their appearance distinguishes them from each other, but that’s not just down to the hair dye. Beat delivers each personality to such effect that they even look different. Takeshi’s whole demeanour sets him apart from Mr Kitano: he looks lean and his face almost gaunt, whilst his eyes are darker and deeper set than his idol‘s. As the characters fuse, the distance between them is lessened both in appearance and personality in a true testament to Beat’s acting dexterity.
For viewers who are apt to sit watching a film, picking at the story, insistent on solution, Takeshis’ will be frustrating. However, as Beat himself has said, the intention is to leave audiences in the depth of confusion and the unknown, and he certainly achieves this. What will be unfulfilling for some will be a stimulating exploration of identity for others.