Kikujiro is a critically acclaimed film from Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano (who writes, directs, and stars in the film). The effort was a bit of a departure for Kitano as it is a family comedy-drama (Kitano is famous for his action features). It is produced by frequent Kitano producing collaborators Masayuki Mori (Fireworks, Brother) and Takio Yoshida (Outrage, Beyond Outrage). Takeshi Kitano stars in the lead role of Kikujiro (as Beat Takeshi).
The story of Kikujiro centers around a young boy named Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi), who is handed over to a strange goofball named Kikujiro (Beat Takeshi), who normally wouldn't be ideal as someone taking care of a kid. Kikujiro is enlisted as chaperone for the boy's summer vacation because Masao's grandmother is best friends with Kikujiro's wife.
Initially, Kikujiro seems like the worst possible person to look over Masao while on vacation. Kikujiro gambles away the vacation expenses at a horse-racing event (in which he gets the numbers from Masao) and then takes him on the rest of the trip without enough funds for the vacation or journey. The two seem like an odd pairing. It doesn't seem to make any sense why they would be spending time together at all.
Masao decides he wants to set out to meet his mother and see her for the first time. He has grown up without knowing his family. Instead of simply taking Masao to the beach, Kikujiro decides to help the boy and takes him to meet his mother. The resulting journey taken by the odd pair is one full of surprises, detours, and events. Yet when Masao finally is supposed to meet his mother he finds she already has a family: one which seems happy despite him never having been a part of it. Masao is devastated.
Kikujiro tries to cheer Masao up and enlists the help of some goofball friends he meets along the way to still give Masao a fun summer vacation. They play a number of games and everyone is working hard to bring some happiness to the boy. Kikujiro spends the rest of the trip trying to bring joy and happiness to Masao. He looks over him and tries his best to do well for him. The journey they take together becomes one neither one of them will ever forget. A special vacation with an unexpected destination.
Takeshi Kitano got his start as an actor and went under the name Beat Takeshi. He became a big film star. Then when he started writing, directing, and starring in his own films he started to use his name (Takeshi Kitano) while keeping his acting name (Beat Takeshi) for his acting roles. In Kikujiro, Takeshi delivers one of his best performances. The role offers a surprising and strong dramatic turn for him while offering a lot of his unique comedic sensibilities as well. The role was excellent and Kitano crafted one of his best parts for himself.
The music was composed by Joe Hisaishi (who is a frequent collaborator of Takeshi Kitano and composer of all of Hayao Miyazaki's films). Hisaishi makes beautiful and heartfelt music on all of his films. The work here is exceptional and adds to the emotional filmmaking. The score is heartwarming and emotionally resonant.
The cinematography by Katsumi Yanagijima (Battle Royale, Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman) gives the film a inventive photographic style with an often naturalistic approach. It effectively conveys the ups and downs of the journey the characters go on. Yanagijima is a regular collaborator with Takeshi and does excellent work on Kikujiro.
In addition to playing the lead part, Takeshi Kitano wrote and directed the film. Kitano's script is surprising in many ways. The journey ultimately taken by the characters is full of surprises. The story is brilliant in comedic scenes and emotionally heartfelt and surprisingly deep during other moments. Sometimes the two styles intertwine in a fantastic way.
While Kitano seems to be a director and actor recognized more for his successful action pictures, Kitano has crafted a smart, emotionally rich family comedy-drama that is one of his best films with Kikujiro. This film is rewarding on an emotional level. The story told is sentimental and unique. The film is also uproariously funny at times. Kikujiro is great filmmaking and a film which should already be considered as a classic of Japanese cinema.
Kikujiro has a modest transfer on DVD. The positive of the release is that it presents the film in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen and is anamorphically enhanced for 16:9 widescreen HDTV's. The image has a naturally filmic style which isn't marred by DNR or other similarly disappointing image imperfections. Alas, this is certainly an older transfer of the film and the presentation looks dated and also doesn't have a impressive encode. It's a serviceable but somewhat underwhelming transfer. This film could certainly stand to have a new high-definition master done.
The film is presented in Japanese stereo with English subtitles. The stereo audio is quite basic sounding but it is proficient for the film's dialogue and decent for the presentation of the score music composed by Joe Hisaishi. The subtitles are excellent. While this audio presentation is a bit lacking in high fidelity the quality is still reasonable sounding.
Kikujiro arrives on M.O.D. DVD from Sony Pictures Classics with no extra features at all. (In fact, there isn't even a menu.)
Kikujiro is a charming and offbeat comedy-drama with an outstanding lead performance. Writer-Director Takeshi Kitano crafted one his best films with this gem of a film. It's an incredible work of art. Fans of Japanese cinema are strongly encouraged to check it out.