If I had to name three directors that had a direct influence on my taste for Japanese movies, Takeshi Kitano would surely be among those three. Films like Hana-bi and Sonatine swept me away into a whole new abyss of filmmaking. So starting off this film section with a Kitano film is more than appropriate. And what better film to pick than his latest directorial effort, Kantoku: Banzai!. For better or for worse, a movie that at least deserves being written about.
Although in certain ways a complete opposite, Kantoku: Banzai! is the companion piece of Takeshis', Kitano's previous film. When some time ago he announced that he wanted to take a different direction as a director (a quote that is directly referenced in Kantoku: Banzai!), he surely wasn't joking around. He abused Takeshis' to mix up all his previous films into one big Kitano shake. The result was unique. Kantoku: Banzai! fills the void Takeshis' left behind. As a mix of all the films he has never made, the result is even crazier.
Kantoku: Banzai! shares the same humor as Takeshis'. Something I'm sure most people will not appreciate. While Kitano's films have always been quite humorous, they still fitted the arthouse mold. Apart from Getting Any? of course, but even to the most avid Kitano fans, that film is still relatively unknown. Kantoku: Banzai! sees Kitano going back to Beat Takeshi once more, his character that is most loved in his home country.
At the core of this movie, we find Kitano himself. Unable to decide what to make of his new film, he cycles through a series of failed projects, trying his hand at some of the genres he hasn't done before. The parodies on genre films are nice, although still pretty much rooted in the Kitano universe. Things get really weird when his "new" film finally starts. The film turns mad, introducing several crazy characters and delving into the weird kind of slapstick Kitano is known for in his Beat Takeshi role. The doll Kitano has been carrying around finally becomes Kitano himself, showing up whenever it gets rough on the director, taking all the hits.
Visually, the film is interesting. Not the knock-out beauty that a film like Dolls was, but much in the same vein as Katsuhito Ishii's Taste of Tea, Kantoku: Banzai! is filled with wacky visuals that defy description. The CGi is quite simplistic, but again this is used to maximum effect. Same goes for the music, which never bears the emotion of Hisaishi's best work, but still conveys and adds to the pleasure of this film.
Kantoku: Banzai! is not a perfect film. The structure of the film is quite repetitive (with Kitano trying out many different genres) so in places it does start to drag a little. The humor itself isn't always spot on but within a film like this that is to be expected. But what I missed the most was a scene similar to the end of Takeshis', where Kitano shows off that he can mix arthouse with slapstick and still produce a killer result. That kind of grandeur is not really apparent in Kantoku: Banzai!
Somehow this is a personal film, as Kitano clearly plays himself, lost in the world of cinema. But it's hard to tell where reality stops and where the film universe takes over. Kitano gloats, he is cocky and pretentious, but just as easily he takes the piss out of himself. He is one of the few that can actually pull off a film like this. Kantoku: Banzai is one big happy mess of filmmaking, referencing many other directors, resembling many more, but defying them all by making something totally unique and totally Kitano.
We'll see what the future brings. It's not a type of film that Kitano can repeat forever, but together with Takeshis' it marks a mad interruption in his line of work as a director. The film is fun, strange and compelling. It's nice to see many of his regulars pass by (although he should give Terajima a bigger role next time) and through all the wackiness, there's still a whole lot of solid ground in it. If anything, this film will only add to the myth that Takeshi Kitano is.
Highly recommended for fans, other people should treat this film with caution. I myself loved it, but I didn't expect anything else.