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Sony Classical presents
Kikujiro (1999)

Kikujiro: Give me more money or I'll kill you guys!
Kikujiro's Wife: Stop playing gangster!

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: December 11, 2000

Stars: Takeshi Kitano, Yusuke Sekiguchi
Other Stars: Kayoko Kishimoto, Kazuko Yoshiyuki
Director: Takeshi Kitano

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (a threatening incident)
Run Time: 02h:01m:31s
Release Date: December 12, 2000
UPC: 043396052796
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-A-B+ D

DVD Review

Japanese star Takeshi Kitano is one of the more intriguing figures in film today. He appears comfortable as the stoic, brutal gangster who dishes out violence without hesitation. However, even his bloodiest films sometimes contain beautiful scenes of nature and human joy. Sonatine includes several violent massacres, especially in its finale, but its most memorable scenes feature the simplicity and wonder of natural scenery. These quiet interludes add life and beauty to the morose story, but eventually fade amidst the sad violence. This meditative tone emanates strongly in Kikujiro, a light-hearted road film filled with laughter and an enjoyment of life. At its core is a surprisingly deep relationship between a quirky, trouble-prone man and a timid young boy.

Nine-year-old Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) decides to travel away from Tokyo to seek out the mother he never knew. To keep him out of trouble, Kikujiro (Kitano, a.k.a. Beat Takeshi) accompanies him on his journey. Unfortunately, his financial irresponsibility leaves them broke, in the middle of nowhere. This leads the two unlikely friends into numerous entertaining situations while meeting a group of colorful characters along the way. As the story progresses, it strays from a simple search narrative and becomes a series of comic episodes.

The episodic structure of the film provides plenty of time to discover the nuances of the Kikujiro character. He sidesteps most of society's rules with a jovial mix of wonder and angst. The sequences at the expensive hotel are some of the funniest moments in the film. After Kikujiro fails miserably in the swimming pool, he joins Masao in violating several rules of the hotel in succession. His mindset follows many of the ideas of a child, and he's always looking for a new adventure or avenue. While this often gets them into trouble, his foolhardiness keeps his character enjoyable and fascinating. Kitano's direction contains deliberate pacing that allows scenes to develop and flourish. A touching piano score combines nicely with the action to create an ethereal experience. While the slower pace may test the patience of some viewers, the payoff usually warrants the extended length of each scene.

It is difficult to place Kikujiro into a single film genre. It contains numerous scenes of mischief and hilarity that would make me describe it as a comedy. However, the film also includes deep, heartfelt moments that pull at the heart and emotions more than a generic comedy. The story follows the outline of a road film, with a variety of interesting minor characters joining the leads for short time periods. However, more significant themes lurk beneath the obvious structure. Masao lives with his grandmother and lacks a strong father figure in his life. Kikijuro eventually begins to play that role, but also is fulfilling a missing portion of his own childhood.

Takeshi Kitano originally burst onto the Japanese television scene as "Beat" Takeshi and displayed his humorous abilities as a stand-up comic. However, Fireworks—his most recognized film in America—is virtually devoid of whimsical humor. This makes Kikujiro such a surprise to Western audiences who know him only from a few films. Kitano transforms virtually insignificant events such as juggling a few balls or playing a child's freeze game into lively events. The hilarious creations of the human mind provide the humor for these characters. Kitano's writing does not require an extravagant, unbelievable situation to create a comic moment. For example, an extended sequence with two silly wayward bikers— "Baldy" and "Fatso"—covers a majority of the film's final act. Many of these scenes do little to further the plot, and consist of silly entertainment for Masao, but they still remain interesting.

Kikujiro emits a light-hearted tone that could cause stern viewers to dismiss it as shallow or a waste of time. Upon further reflection, however, its charms continue to grow within the mind. Masao and Kikujiro develop a remarkable relationship that wonderfully combines with Kitano's elegant directing style. The film provides an enjoyable experience, and it also achieves moments of visual and emotional beauty that will remain with you for a long while.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Sony Pictures Classics deserves a commendation for the wonderful widescreen anamorphic transfer on this disc. It is obvious that a lengthy amount of time was spent perfecting the image clarity and colors of this film. The vivid red colors during the dream sequence and the bright uniforms of the bikers stand out as only a few of the numerous memorable visual moments. Takeshi Kitano excels in filming vast, long shots of characters within a scenic setting, and this transfer supports his remarkable eye. I noticed virtually no defects on this disc, and although it doesn't achieve reference quality, it only falls slightly from that title.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japaneseyes

Audio Transfer Review: Kikujiro's two-channel Dolby digital transfer works wonderfully to help set the scenes for Masao and Kikujiro's adventures. The elegant piano score moves well through both channels and adds to the richness of the film. The music is remarkably clear and well defined, and it combines well with the background sounds of the film. While a 5.1-channel mix would have been a nice addition, the audio transfer does stand strongly on his disc. Also, much of the action originates from visuals, with sound functioning primarily for the dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Central Station, Johnny Mnemonic
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The few extras contained on the Kikujiro disc are barely worthy of a mention. The cast section includes information on only one person, Takeshi Kitano. This text is provided in list form, without any structure or flow. It would have been a plus to receive more background on Kitano and the other performers. The only other features are "bonus trailers" for Brazil's Central Station and Johnny Mnemonic—which features Kitano. Why include these items without the actual trailer for the title film? This makes little sense.

This disc would have benefited from several extras, especially an isolated music track on the level of John Sayles' Limbo. I would even appreciate simple production notes or a short interview with Kitano on his aims for the film. The lack of any interesting features is the only major drawback of this release.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

During its theatrical release, many film critics gave unfavorable reviews to Kikujiro because of its whimsical nature and variance from Takeshi Kitano's recent films. Unfortunately, they missed the allure and visual treasures of this compelling film. Even without the extras, Kitano's light-hearted, wonderful story deserves another look.


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