Kitano, Takeshi

Kitano, Takeshi
▪ 2004

      By 2003 actor-writer-director Takeshi Kitano had established himself as one of Japan's most prominent media personalities. He appeared weekly in up to eight prime-time shows on Japanese television and was also active as a newspaper columnist and as a stand-up comedian. In addition, he had published numerous novels and collections of short stories and poetry and had even made successful forays into music and art, releasing a number of CDs and holding several exhibitions of his paintings and cartoons. It was as a film director, however, that Kitano had garnered international attention. His crime drama Hana-bi, winner of the Golden Lion award for best picture at the Venice Film Festival in 1997, was hailed by many critics as a masterpiece. In 2003 another Kitano film, Zatoichi, won the Open 2003 special award at Venice. Also released to Western audiences during the year were Kitano's Dolls (2002) and Battle Royale II (2003).

      Kitano was born into a working-class family on Jan. 18, 1947, in Tokyo. He abandoned plans to become an engineer when he dropped out of college to enter show business in 1972. With friend Kyoshi Kaneko, he formed a popular comedy team called the Two Beats (later Kitano would frequently act under the name Beat Takeshi). Performing first in nightclubs, the duo soon began to appear on Japanese television and quickly attracted a national following with their irreverent, sometimes off-colour routines. In the late 1970s Kitano embarked on a solo acting career. He starred in a television series called Super Superman and several movies. In 1983 he appeared alongside David Bowie and Tom Conti in his first English-language film, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

      Kitano made his directorial debut in 1989 with Violent Cop, in which he also played the title role. The film, about a Tokyo detective trying to crack a yakuza (“gangster”)-run drug ring, drew comparisons to Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry and was the first in a series of Kitano-directed crime epics that included Boiling Point (1990) and Sonatine (1993). In 1994 Kitano nearly lost his life in a motorcycle accident, after which he was hospitalized for six weeks and underwent months of physical therapy. He rebounded in a big way with Hana-bi, another tale of policemen and yakuza; the film earned raves for its deft blend of comic and tragic elements and for its innovative use of flashbacks and flash forwards. Aside from winning Venice's Golden Lion, Hana-bi was also selected the best non-European film by the European Film Academy in 1997.

      In 2000 Kitano directed Brother, his first film with an English-speaking cast, and Battle Royale, a futuristic thriller that stirred controversy in Japan with its tale of juvenile delinquents forced by authorities into deadly combat on a remote island. In Zatoichi, Kitano broke new ground with his first period piece, in which he played a legendary blind samurai.

Sherman Hollar

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Universalium. 2010.

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