Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Venice 2007: Glory to the Filmmaker

Takeshi Kitano is called God in Japan, and this God, like an Indian version, has two avatars. Beat Takeshi is the comedian who runs riotous slapstick serials on Japanese television. The actor’s other name is, well, Takeshi Kitano, the serious performer, whose movies often are horribly violent. His latest work, “Kantoku Banzai” (Glory to the Filmmaker), which screened outside competition at the Venice Film Festival, is a cocktail of violence and comedy. Though billed as his first real comedy since the 1995 "Minna Yatteru Ka" (Getting Any?), the movie has a few extremely brutal scenes, probably to attract Japanese youth growing up on aggressive video games and near sadistic comics. Despite this mix, the film did just about average business in Japan. But Kitano spells success in art-house circles, and Venice honoured him this year by naming an award after his latest movie. Sixty-year-old Kitano received the first Glory to the Filmmaker prize, his first accolade on the Lido since 1997, when his “Hanabi” (Fireworks) won the Golden Lion for the best competing entry.

“Kantoku Banzai” reflects the disillusionment of a director, and actually does so Kitano’s own, over stagnation in cinema. He recently rued that the medium
despite its 100 plus years of existence had not evolved radically enough, and it is this frustrating feeling that he gives vent to in his film. Takeshi essays Beat Takeshi, desperately seeking a new genre that will bring audiences back to the theatres. Kitano tries out a variety of plots that pan from gangsterism to romance to costume drama to period piece to martial arts to sheer horror to slow-paced Ozu-style narrative. But each of these displeases him, and he finds little novelty in them. Till he hits upon the story of a mother-daughter duo who try and crook a rich man. Beat is his secretary, and he thwarts the women’s attempts, saving mankind in the process!

Although the movie does make several forays into the comic, often getting viewers into splits, it tends to drag at intervals, and Takeshi’s normal wooden style of acting and deadpan expression do not help lift the sagging frames. The women – Kayoko Kishimoto (mother) and Anne Suzuki (daughter) – are livelier effectively delivering funny one-liners. Tohru Emori as Mr Big appears rather exaggerated coming off as an over-stuffed doll, an apt partner for Kitano’s own look-alike puppet that shields him from punches and abuses.

(Webposted September 8 2007)