Whether you see it as a winning perversity or downright cussedness, Takeshi Kitano doesn't like repeating himself and is apt to throw any winning formula he has away on a whim. Straight after his native Japan accepted him as a straight actor in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Kitano sought to prove he is an auteur through his directing. No sooner had he succeeded in this than he made the thoroughly lowbrow Getting Any complete with poo jokes. Then came the amazing Hana-Bi, so Takeshi tried to conquer Hollywood with the mainstream Brother. Tinseltown forsaken, he moved on to the art house Dolls and the populist Zatoichi. Now he wants to be difficult again.
Takeshi Kitano is a successful TV performer with a large entourage and a big shot. He can afford to demand respect from extras and to ridicule them. He wonders what his producer would've been like as a taxi driver and sees his girlfriend as a Yakuza's girl. Meanwhile a lookalike extra dreams of Takeshi's life, and the worlds of fiction and reality start to blend. Takeshi the Extra has to fend off fans outside his modest shabby flat and has to endure the criticism and carping of others as a taxi driver and a convenience store clerk. The boundaries bend further when the extra discovers a gun and takes on the life of a Yakuza with his red sports car, shoot-outs, and girlfriend. However not even Yakuza Takeshi has a problem free life. Takeshi Kitano the actor awakes from a nightmare of the extra getting revenge for the ridicule he inflicted
In Takeshis, Kitano explores questions of identity and fiction and reality. This is not to say that he is trying to let the world in to the secret of what he is really like, in fact the effect is the opposite of this. Kitano considers what the world would be like if he was a down at heel extra laughed at by his neighbours and humiliated in his auditions. He thinks about life as a convenience store clerk with fussy customers, and he imagines what it would be like if that clerk had his problems with Takeshis admirers and critics. He imagines how the other Takeshi may want to change their life and become an empowered Yakuza bossing others around and dispensing his justice with a gun. Even this wouldn't be ideal with an army of policeman and enemies waiting to bring him down.
It seems that being Takeshi Kitano is as difficult as anyone elses life but Kitano isn't looking for pity or compassion simply entertainment. He is equally happy ridiculing himself as a big headed star as when he is ridiculing others. Kitano is aware of his image and of what has become associated with him - beaches, Yakuza, blond hair, practical jokes - and he takes the mickey out of all of this whilst also being slightly proud of it too. His trademarks are all here in terms of idiosyncratic cuts, rhythmic editing, visual puns, and underplaying, and this is what renders the film so watchable despite his self referential screenplay. The film weaves in and out from image to image and from idea to idea, and it does this effortlessly only seeming to lose some pace in the nightclub scene which feels a little too long. Takeshis is a colourful way to pass your time but definitely one of the least meaningful films Kitano has made.
I hope Kitanos next venture is a return to the territory of Dolls and more of an artistic development than this rather whimsical exercise. Takeshis is a bit of an "in-joke" and new viewers will feel little connection to the film whereas Kitanos fans will see it as the filmic callisthenics it really is. One for people who already understand the directors work.
The Seville disc is a single layer disc with no extras. The video quality is not exceptional for a film that is only a year old and doesn't seem to be an improvement on the previous Japanese disc. The top still below is the new R1 with the Japanese disc below it:
and again with the R1 disc on top:
As you can see there is a remarkable lack of difference here, but I find the original Japanese disc to have warmer colours, more brightness, less obvious edge enhancement and a stronger transfer. The R2 disc is recorded at higher bit rates - 6.5Mbits to around 5Mbits for the R1 disc. When you compare audio tracks, you will find an extra surround track on the R2 release and the audio recorded at 448kbits compare to 192kbits for the R1 disc. The audio on the R1 disc is fine although there seems to be a moment's drop-out during the battle on the beach. In terms of comparison the expensive R2 disc beats this new release but the difference is marginal, only in the area of extras could the R2 disc be said to be way ahead, and those extras come without English options.
This isn't a film which will appeal to the uninitiated but given the lack of releases for this film worldwide this is at least another option for the fiscally strapped. If you have the money then the Japanese R2 disc is preferable to this new disc, but the difference may not be worth the extra moulah as the transfers are not poles apart and the Japanese extras are useless for the English viewer anyway. The chief reason to opt for the expensive release is the far better sound quality and options.