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Kids Return

After a severe motorcycle accident in 1994, Japanese filmmaker and actor Takeshi Kitano was hospitalized and almost died, with the accident leaving half of his face paralyzed. It was during his recovery that he wrote 1996's Kids Return, his most personal film, which plays as a sort of Japanese Diner. Kitano's tale is about two high school hoodlums, Shinji (Masanobu Ando) and Masaru (Ken Kaneko), who have to enter the "real world." The two have a strong friendship, but their pranks (beating up fellow students, hanging a life-size drawing of a teacher outside of a classroom with oversized genitals, burning a heartless teacher's car) gets Masaru expelled. Thus — after a fellow student beats him up — he decides to become a boxer. In the meantime, Shinji continues going to school, although he joins Masaru in boxing training. But after a sparring match, it turns out that Shinji is the better boxer, leading Masaru to join the local Yakuza outfit while Shinji pursues a boxing career — eventually, both paths will be the young men's undoing. Though there are some nice touches in Kids Return, as well as strong supporting characters (two classmates want to be comedians; one classmate has a crush on a waitress at a coffee shop), the story is a little too familiar to be effective. The most interesting element — the idea that failure doesn't preclude later successes — is undermined by the trajectory of Shinji's character, who takes the focal point of the middle section of the film. As we are seeing these youths in a transitional time in their lives, there isn't an overly developed sense of dramatic tension, and though the story is interesting, the pacing can be slow. As always, Kitano elicits good performances from his leads, and they do grow up before our eyes. Kitano has always showed (even in this, his weakest film) that he has a skill for set-ups — his elliptical and often cold storytelling style is well served here. But Kids Return doesn't contain the surprises of his best work, lacks emotional resonance, and is generally little more than an interesting failure from one of the most interesting directors working today. Image's DVD release features a clean widescreen transfer (1.85:1) and audio in Dolby 2.0 Surround. In Japanese with optional English subtitles. Snap-case.

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