(Beat) Takeshi Kitano has long been someone I’ve admired. Or at least in his one guise as a filmmaker and actor playing in and making hyper stylish Japanese crime films. In Japan however his fame is mostly for his work as a comedian and TV personality who also dabbles in Art. One of the things I find so fascinating about watching his films is in amongst what is mainly dark subject matter, in his crime films at least, behind it is a man famous for his sense of humour. It makes me wonder if I were to watch these films like Sonatine, Outrage or Boiling Point with a Japanese person would they be doubled over with laughter at points I didn’t even know where funny? It’s a great reminder of how things may or may not be lost in translation and how language is still the biggest barrier for globalisation. Between his deadpan acting style and minimal dialogue translated into subtitles I always wonder if I’m missing anything. There is something endlessly interesting in imagining someone else’s experience of a film. Trying to outline the cultural and historical experiences and idiosyncratic things about their day to day lives that make the smallest things amusing or relevant. The moments in a film that just make you smirk about the everyday rather than laugh out loud are what make it relatable. This is of course true of watching any foreign film however Kitano gives so little away it is what he is holding onto I find so fascinating.
In particlular I wanted to talk about the Sonatine, starred in and directed by Kitano. In this movie he somehow makes a violent, murderous and unforgiving criminal who doesn’t say much an extremely likeable guy.
The film on it’s release received little recognition most likely as the plot is minimal however to me it’s a real artistic endeavour. The shots are often with little movement centred around small rows of silent stationary characters – Kitano gave the D.O.P little to think about. The dialogue, or at least the translated dialogue through out is chatty and casual which perfectly contradicts the manufactured horizontal line ups the characters often end up in. The film regularly becomes a series of talking photographs – this almost slideshow like approach is something I’ve already mentioned being fond of. Similairly with the Japanese language it’s hard not to relate it to 80s anime wherein the character’s lips are frequently the only things moving in shot.
In part Kitano’s gang are hiding out on a beach and for a little while and the film details how they fill their time. As well as various ball games, firework fights, russian roulette and various activities that almost spill it into ‘buddy’ movie territory this happens:
Its almost like some kind of dance or performance piece. Its perfectly tinged with the character’s euphoric abandon of their otherwise aggressive lives mixed with peter pan style youthfulness helped along by the playful fast motion camera. It fully comes out of nowhere to great effect. Its almost Bruce Weber ‘esque, its has a childlike hopefulness with some underlying innocent sexuality to it, the feeling of it immediately reminded me of the being boring video.
Similarly the music has a lot to blame as to why I liked the film so much. Its so perfectly of it’s time and so perfectly Japanese. It’s that kind of hyper reliable library part jazz part balearic music that I love so much. Kitano’s long time collaborator Joe Hisaishi creates music for film so perfectly ‘background’ it almost feels like lift music. There has to of been a great deal of collaboration to achieve this considering how grandiose Hisaishi’s scoring of studio Ghibli has been over the years. It could be perceived as cheesy but to me its lack of cynicism is what makes it so completely endearing.
Shot wise this has cemented my desire to work with ‘motion stills’ in order to make film – and I am really warming to the idea of a subtitled piece. I want to somehow recreate the feeling they give. Whenever you see subtitles although they do their best to translate a film they also are a constant reminder you will never fully understand it.