Abe Casio. Beat Takeshi vs. Takeshi Kitano. Trans. William O. Gardner and Takeo Hori. New York: Kaya Press, 2005. 287 pgs.
The first Kitano Takeshi film I watched was Kikujiro in one of my Japanese classes. Entranced by the delightful film, I decided that I wanted to watch other works by this comedic director. Hoping for a similar sense of enjoyment that I experienced while watching Kikujiro, I purchased A Scene at the Sea and Fireworks. Let me say that what I experienced watching these two films were quite different than the one I had watching Kikujiro. A Scene a the Sea is probably one of the most minimalist films that I have ever seen in both dialogue and action, but watching it was like being in a quiet meditation for one-hundred minutes and small parts of the film, such as when Takako folds Shigeru’s clothing or when the “Orange Woman” repeatedly asks a number of people to peel her fruit, are quite heartwarming. The ending of the film left me a bit melancholy, but it was tinged more with nostalgia than sadness. I then watched Fireworks which is a film that must be experienced more than once because the duel stories of Nishi and Horibe overlap more than one thinks upon the initial viewing.
Since then I watched several other Kitano Takeshi films and have enjoyed each in a different way be it the aesthetic beauty of Dolls or the ribaldry of Getting Any?. However, besides reading some short articles by Beat Takeshi that were, of course, more for fun than scholarly intent, I had yet to read a scholarly tome concerning Kitano’s body of work. Therefore I was very pleased to read the announcement that Abe Casio’s study Beat Takeshi vs. Kitano was going to be released in English. This was back in 2002 and so I waited and waited for the book to be released and after quite some time had passed, I forgot about it. However, one day, while randomly surfing the Internet, I came across the book and saw that it had been released, so I quickly ordered it and read it. It is quite good and I believe that both Kitano enthusiasts and Japanese film fans and scholars should read it.
Abe’s book is separated into two halves. Being that the book was originally released in 1994 and Kitano had only directed four films, Violent Cop, Boiling Point, A Scene at the Sea, and Sonatine, so the book at first glance seems to be less than comprehensive work, however, with ample information concerning Kitano’s work as an actor, Many Happy Returns, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and his television work, Abe fills this supposed void. At any rate, the second half of the English edition of the book contains a number of articles concerning Kitano’s later films, Getting Any?, Fireworks, Kikujiro, Brother, and Dolls.
As made obvious by the title, Abe contrasts the dueling personalities of the larger-than-life comedian Beat Takeshi and the more subdued, almost gloomy persona embodied within the filmmaker Kitano Takeshi. Much of the earlier parts of the book mainly consist of Abe’s diatribes against Japanese television which he views as nothing more than a vapid waste of time consisting of little more than talk shows, travel shows, and cartoons. However, he also writes that television is dangerous because of its collective desire to homogenize a nation. It is within this miasma of pop-culture vacuity that the former manzai comedian Beat Takeshi raised to stardom, but he, along with his comic troop the Takeshi Gundan, or Takeshi Army, was able to prevent himself from being homogenized by his refusal to play along by television’s rules. However, because it is a tremendous force, Takeshi was not able defeat television, so when opportunity to direct Violent Cop knocked, Takeshi jumped upon it. Without worrying if his films would be hits, it was nearly impossible for any Japanese film to do well during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kitano, as a director, was able to put his thoughts on screen, especially his relentless fascination with suicide.
Quite wordy and academic in nature, the names Walter Benjamin, Kierkegaard, Orikuchi Shinobu, etc. pop up quite often, one sometimes has to wage battle with Abe’s words to find his main ideas, but the book is a valuable and welcome edition to ones Japanese film bookshelf.