Takeshi Kitano’s latest offering continues the self-reflexive dissection of his persona and his career that was kick-started by Takeshis’. Kantoku · Banzai! (basically put, ‘Glory to the Filmmaker!’) is also his first all-out comedy feature in over a decade, but it is perhaps the most unconventional comedy I’ve ever seen. There are sights contained within I never imagined I would ever see in my most fevered dreams, let alone in a motion picture. And I’m pretty certain that even if I had had the pleasure of subtitles, it still wouldn’t have made a lot of sense. But still, does the man behind Violent Cop and Takeshi’s Castle pull it off, or crumble under his own introspective analysis? And what’s more, is it even funny?
Prefixed by an amusing short film (as part of Cannes 60th anniversary “To Each His Cinema” celebration), the feature film itself is very much a picture of two halves. We are first introduced to ‘Beat’ Takeshi’s papier mâché doll replica, which both accompanies and replaces him throughout the movie, undergoing a medical check-up to determine the state of it’s health, and, by that token, Kitano’s career. With the help of a narrator, Takeshi ponders what his next film should be, and what follows is a series of ‘false starts’ covering various genres, both ones he’s accustomed to and ones he’s never tried, complete with fake titles. So there’s the gangster segment, the romance, the coming-of-age story, the 50’s drama…My personal favourites would have to be the horror section (which manages to be surprisingly scary before it descends into farce), and the samurai section, which even tops Zatoichi for blade-swishing thrills.
Finally, we arrive at what’s to be the main narrative thread, but even then, it’s a nonsensical mish-mash of crazy characters, loopy sketches, and referential wackiness. As far as I gathered, against a backdrop of a meteorite heading towards Earth, a skint mother and daughter duo’s attempts at getting rich quick our failing miserably, until they run into Kichijogi (‘Beat’ Takeshi). Mistaking him for the son of a rich and powerful political leader (when he is merely his secretary), they embark on a mission of marriage to swipe his wealth. But the plot is of little relevance, as we are treated to scene after scene of the kind of humour that manages to be both broad and surreal at the same time. To reveal any of the jokes would spoil the surprise, not because they are especially clever, but because much of the film’s humour comes from the unexpected.
The tone is wildly inconsistent, thanks to the constant genre-hopping, and not all the humour works – there’s far too much anime-style ‘pratfall in disbelief’ for my tastes. And sometimes it’s just plain embarassing – does the world really need another Matrix spoof sequence? Actually, when it’s ‘Beat’ Takeshi doing it, a lot can be forgiven, and that’s why I probably enjoyed this film a lot more than if I hadn’t grown to respect and appreciate his ouevre. Cameos and nods abound for the initiated, but even then, there’s still things non-fans can enjoy in a Kentucky Fried Movie sort of way. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it made me rather gigglesome. If there’s one thing that is undeniably a success, it would be the Takeshi doll – used as co-star, stunt double, and stand-in, there’s something both thought-provokingly existential and wonderfully quaint about the idea, and it works beautifully on screen.
Overall, it’s perhaps not going to sit comfortably next to your copies of Sonatine or Hana-bi, and while play-time is fun, nothing beats Kitano in his serious reflective mode as opposed to his silly one, especially when this is more filler material than genuine progression. As you’d expect, certain segments work a lot better than others, and the second half does drag from time to time. Even then, there’s no guarantee it will please all the Kitano fanbase, to whom it is mostly directed. Nevertheless, Kitano has earned the right to indulge himself in some crazy experimentation, and if there are people willing to enjoy the ride, such as myself, then so be it. Only question is, what kind of film does he make from here?