NOTE:Although this Japanese Import DVD is NTSC, it is coded for playback in Region 2 only. In order to watch this disc, you'll have to have either a player coded for Region 2, or a Region Free DVD Player.
Takeshi Kitano has proven himself to be one of the most interesting filmmaker's still working in the Japanese movie industry. His films have a tendency to be rather dark but also very emotional and, at times, quite personal. While Zatoichi, his most successful film to date in terms of box office, fell completely flat for this reviewer, his follow up – 2005's Takeshis' proves to be a completely odd return to form that will probably end up dividing his fan base right down the middle. While he is relatively unknown outside of cult movie circles in North America, he's nothing short of a superstar in his native Japan, which is (sort of) where the inspiration for this film comes from, as it deals with his fame and notoriety in a rather unusual way, and it allows him to play a strange duel role as well..
As the movie begins, we're introduced to a famous actor named Takeshi (played by, oddly enough, Takeshi Kitano). He's huge, he's a mega-star, and he's constantly being shuttled around in his Rolls Royce from one film shoot to the next where, when production wraps, the cast always congratulates him and gives him flowers to honor his performance. Like most stars, he's got a crew of publicists and assistants who take care of whatever day to day tasks should arise, and he's also got his fair share of strange fans that follow him around and are seemingly obsessed with him. Underneath all the glitz and glamour, however, it is painfully obvious that Takeshi doesn't feel fulfilled by all of his fame and fortune and that sometimes he'd much rather have a simpler life, though it's equally obvious that he enjoys the money he makes.
At the end of his latest film shoot, Takeshi is approached by Kitano (played by, oddly enough, Takeshi Kitano), a huge fan of Takeshi who asks him for an autograph. Takeshi realizes how much Kitano looks like him, the only difference in their personality being that Kitano has bleach blonde hair, but their personalities are very different. While Takeshi is confident and even forceful sometimes, Kitano is quiet, reserved, and almost shy – his aspirations to become a famous actor are constantly crushed, as no one will cast him for the simple reason that he looks too much like the famous Takeshi!
The next day, while working at the convenience store where he's employed, Kitano finds a bag full of pistols in the washroom, left there by a Yakuza gangster who died there. He takes the weapons and instantly his life changes – he now commands respect and it's as if he no longer looks like Takeshi, but he is Takeshi. One of the young fans that had previously been following Takeshi around now follows Kitano. Waiters at restaurants start to treat him with respect, people will offer him their seats while he's out and about in public, and when things get out of hand or don't go his way, all he has to do is wave his gun around and play up the Takeshi act to get people to change their minds – and failing that, he simply shoots them – over, and over and over again. From here on out, the movie becomes a surrealist take on the importance of fame, being a pop culture icon, and the real life Takashi Kitano's own take on his career, his fans, and his films.
To call this one odd would be an understatement, as it's completely off the wall and almost incomprehensible in spots, but at the same time it is so much more than just weird for the sake of weird. This was obviously a very personal project for Kitano, who has said that this will be the last of his 'Beat Takashi' films, and it seems that he's trying to get everything out of his head with on last hurrah not because he necessarily wants to but because he has to. This is, at times, a very angry film, quite disdainful of the audience that in turn it is being marketed towards. Kitano has got his middle finger up with this movie, and he's flying it right in our collective face. There are plenty of references to his other films, particularly the rather ill received (at least in the West) Getting Any? and here he takes some of the ideas from those films to ridiculous extremes. Here we see a hodge-podge of the different personalities that exist in Takeshi Kitano's head, the comedian, the Yakuza movie star, the artist, and the man but it ends up feeling completely self indulgent at times and will prove to be completely impenetrable to those who haven't seen at least some of, if not all of, his previous works.
Lest it sound like the film doesn't work, rest assured, it is a very well made film with some brilliant editing, typically stoic camera work, and a pair of very interesting performances from Takeshi Kitano that start off very separate but soon merge, as everything else does in the film, into one more cohesive effort. Those familiar with his work and who appreciate the genuinely weird sense of humor that he shows in a lot of his films will probably 'get it' but there's no way this film will have the mainstream appeal of Zatoichi and one gets the point that the man behind it simply doesn't care. He's made his 'blockbuster' and now he's going back to making films for himself and if, as he has stated, he's shedding the 'Beat' persona that has made him so popular and that is so instantly identified with him, this is an interesting way to say goodbye to a huge part of his life. Yes, at times the movie is completely excessive (those gun fights go on forever) and he has obviously made a film that intends to alienate its audience from the get go, serving more as an experience than a narrative, but again, there's enough of Kitano's soul in this movie that it does work. This movie gives us the distinct impression that he's tired of going through the motions and that he wants to move on, try something new and while it might seem a little insulting to send off the 'character' that he's become in such an egotistical fashion, part of the reason he's become such a popular artist is that same unpredictability and ego that he has shown throughout his career in the first place – which makes it completely appropriate, even if it is, quite simply, very bratty.
Surprisingly enough, the 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is simply okay, which for such a recent film, is a little disappointing. There's some moderate grain present throughout, which would be forgivable if that was all there was to complain about but in addition to that there's also some color bleeding, some mpeg compression artifacts in the darker scenes, and some fairly heavy edge enhancement as well. It's all watchable and it's not a horrible transfer by any means, but it certainly could have been authored better as it looks very digitized in spots. Color reproduction is decent, however, and skin tones look nice. There's a fair bit of detail present throughout in both the foreground and the background in spite of the flaws – it's perfectly watchable, but it could have been better.
This release contains audio mixes available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Optional English subtitles are included (for the feature only) that do a pretty good job of translating the film and that don't contain any noticeable typographical errors save for the odd awkward phrase here and there. Regardless of which track you choose (the 5.1 gets the slight edge for better channel separation and more distinct placement in certain scenes) you should be pretty happy with the results. The dialogue is crisp, clean and clear and there are no problems at all with hiss or distortion. Surround usage on the 5.1 mix is great, and quite active at times but more subtle and quiet when it needs to be, nothing feels too over the top or out of place.
The main extra feature on this release is a twenty-nine minute long documentary on the making of the film entitled Takeshis' Takeshi. Through some interviews with Kitano himself and some great behind the scenes footage, we get a pretty interesting look at the production as it was in progress, though the lack of English subtitles makes the interviews rather difficult to figure out for those who don't speak Japanese.
Rounding out the supplements are a music video, a teaser for the film, and the original theatrical trailer for the film. In addition, there are animated menus and of course, chapter stops.
While the transfer certainly could have been better, Takeshis' is an interesting movie that could only have come from the warped mind of Takeshi Kitano. It's funny, it's moving, it's poignant and most of all it's interesting and while it's not a particularly good starting point for those just getting into his work, seasoned fans of his films would do well to check it out. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.