What would happen if a director made a film about himself? And how would that film be affected if this director just happened to be a real multi-talented control freak? You don't need to look any further than Takeshis', Takeshi Kitano's ultimate cinematic experience where he finally takes the time to scrutinize his own self. The result is every bit as schizophrenic as you'd expect it to be.
Takeshis' is a very difficult film to judge. A lot depends on how familiar you are with the work of Kitano (even outside the realm of cinema). Takeshi Kitano is a complex character, an ever-present force in the Japanese media who does everything from designing games to writing novels, from hosting TV shows to writing, editing and directing, and even starring in his own films. He's also a famous comedian, has several columns and his ties with the Yakuza are infamous. How do you capture such a personality in a single film?
The answer is clearly not straight-forward. While the first 30 minutes or so are pretty easy to follow, Kitano quickly loses himself in a world of dreams, working with scenes that overlap, characters that resurface and moments of completely unrelated brilliance. If you're looking for a coherent story you won't find it here, but amidst the chaos you will pick up a lot about the man behind the legend, the chaos actually defines Kitano and the way he goes about constructing the film has a very familiar feel to it, bringing you much closer to his persona than any of the separate scenes could ever manage.
There are fragments of an actual storyline in Takeshis', where we follow a Kitano look-alike trying to find a job as an actor in the movie business. He keeps on failing his auditions, and so he resorts to daydreaming about becoming a big movie star. Trying to make sense of this story throughout the second half will greatly reduce the pleasure there is to be had though, so I wouldn't consider it much more than a simple setup that serves as another reflection on Kitano's almost schizophrenic life.
Visually Takeshis' is a strong summary of Kitano's typical style. The film relies heavily on static shots and looks for dynamics in harsh and unexpected cuts. Kitano is great at building up shots, so the abundance of static camera angles is far from annoying, his typical editing style simply finishes it off. He also took a few cues from Dolls as the whole is a lot more colorful compared to his earlier films (though definitely up to Dolls' standards).
Takeshis' is the second film in line to break off Kitano's collaboration with Joe Hisaishi. Hisaishi's signature is missed simply because he had such a big part in the success of Kitano's film, on the other hand this film is so incredibly meta that the more modern and electronic-oriented score fits better than Hisaishi's typical scores could ever have. The music played during the beach climax in particular is stunning and forms a solid bridge between the old and the new Kitano.
Kitano himself takes up the role of two characters (himself and his look-alike), which is pretty awesome considering he's such a charismatic actor. There is absolutely no one else that could've taken up the role of Takeshi Kitano besides himself. Secondary roles are perfectly cast too, with Kayoko Kishimoto (she plays the worst bitch ever) and Tetsu Watanabe making noteworthy appearances. They are still outclassed by Kitano regulars Ren Osugi and (personal favorite) Susumu Terajima though, the latter actually playing one of his best roles so far. The man's facial expressions and overall body language are just pure gold.
If you're unfamiliar with Kitano's work I would never recommend this film. All the fun and beauty comes from the infinite references Kitano makes to his earlier work and achievements. There's tap dancing, beaches, suicides, absurd and improv comedy. Silly jokes, dyed hair, familiar actors, twitching facial expressions and so much more. Takeshis' is a film that defines Kitano in many ways and in that sense it's a great success. This may scare off people who aren't too familiar with the man's work, but that's actually a good thing in this case.
The good thing is that it's not all just an ode to himself, Kitano doesn't mind making some fun of himself or the people around him. It keeps the film from becoming one big ego trip, instead the result is something more humane and life-like. The final thirty minutes may seem nonsensical and many of the jokes may appear to be completely random, but fans of Kitano will recognize his signature style right away. Takeshis' is a pretty complex film but as soon as you realize it's not so much about the story as it is about the construction of the whole, you'll see that this was the only way to realize this film. It's a feast of recognition, a wonderful comedy and a completely unique film that could've been made by only one man in this entire world. Takeshis' is Takeshi Kitano.