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Kikujiro

Takeshi Kitano is a great Japanese film director, but despite a strong critical reputation his films haven't really taken off in North America with mainstream viewers. His 1999 Kikujiro is consistent with Kitano's world view and style, and it is a good movie, but it may not be the best introduction to the filmmaker's work for Western eyes. The story is simple, and almost eventless. Nine-year old Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi), who lives glumly with his grandmother, stumbles upon the address and photo of his mother, whom he has never met. Impulsively — and with little money and no idea where he is going — the gloomy kid sets out to meet her. But just as embarks, he is waylaid by the hoods who daily demand all of his money. Masao is rescued by a friend (Kayoko Kishimoto) of his grandmother's, and she volunteers her husband (Takeshi Kitano) for the job of accompanying the boy on his journey. But the irresponsible minor yakuza immediately takes his young charge to the cycle races, where he gambles away the boy's travel money. Forced to hitchhike, they encounter a string of oddballs, including a young couple, two motorcycle riders, an aimless traveler, and Beat Kiyoshi in a cameo. Finally returning home, the man and child part, possibly friends, with the man revealing one final piece of withheld information. Kikujiro is the kind of offbeat film that grows in value to the sensitive viewer who has patience for Japanese humor, which can seem inexplicable to westerners. The episodic sequence at the campsite, for example, may tax the patience of non-fans. On the other hand, the film is all of a piece with Kitano's earlier work — languorously paced, elliptical, and deeply emotional under its implacable surface. The story is clear, funny, sensitive, and as usual Kitano's camera placement and editing rhythm is impeccable. Part of the charm of the film comes from Jo Hisaishi's original music score, a melodic and very Western-sounding track. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Kikujiro offers a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that is flawless. The audio production — for what is fundamentally a near-silent movie — is Dolby 2.0 Surround, here in both Japanese and French, while subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish. Otherwise, the disc has almost no extras, aside from trailers for other CTHV releases, including Johnny Mnemonic, in which Kitano has a cameo. The static menu offers 28-chapter scene-selection. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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