A young, naive boy sets out alone on the road to find his wayward mother. Soon he finds an unlikely protector in a crotchety man and the two have a series of unexpected adventures along the ... Read allA young, naive boy sets out alone on the road to find his wayward mother. Soon he finds an unlikely protector in a crotchety man and the two have a series of unexpected adventures along the way.A young, naive boy sets out alone on the road to find his wayward mother. Soon he finds an unlikely protector in a crotchety man and the two have a series of unexpected adventures along the way.
Yet it becomes ultimately affecting almost in spite of itself. In fact, Kitano does such a resolutely offbeat job that at certain times, the film reminds me of the narrative ellipses and low steady shots that were the trademark of Yasujiro Ozu's home dramas, intermingled with a surprisingly intense Quentin Tarantino-like, in-your-face edginess. The protagonist of the film is really the latch-key nine-year old, Masao, who is on a quest to find the mother whom his grandmother says is "away working". With his sad eyes and cherubic face, Yusuke Sekiguchi is perfectly cast as Masao providing the moral compass for the story. Whether he is running with his arms flailing or forlornly playing soccer by himself, he is poignant without being saccharine and completely natural. It is Masao's scrapbook that provides the framework for the film lending each chapter a descriptive title. Every chapter has a distinct character that is, in various turns, playful, hilarious, disturbing, surreal and heartbreaking. Case in point: Kitano is not afraid to use a child molester as first an uncomfortable source of black humor and then as the subject of Masao's nightmare. My favorite scenes come toward the end when Kikujiro organizes a motley crew of misfits to play games with Masao and have them masquerade as Indians, aliens, marine life and even watermelons. The variety in tone between chapters makes for unexpected tonal shifts, but somehow it works and adds to the greater context of the story.
That Kitano is able to manage a consistent film-making style with a strong visual sense is a credit to the talent behind the camera - not only Kitano's direction, script and film editing but also his artwork showcased throughout the movie, Katsumi Yanagishima's sharply rendered cinematography and Joe Hisaishi's evocative Windham Hill-like score. There are some funny sideline performances from Gidayu Great and Rakkyo Ide as Fatso and Baldy, two bikers who turn out to be the Abbott and Costello of soft-hearted slackers; Nezumi Mamura as a free-spirited drifter; Fumie Hosokawa as a relentlessly perky girl with a talent for juggling; and in the opening sequence, Kayoko Kishimoto as Kikujiro's take-no-prisoners wife. Kitano, however, elicits the most laughs if only for the film's central conceit that he gets away with his infantile gangster behavior. One would think the story would climax when Masao comes upon his mother, but Kitano confounds expectations with every new scene. The DVD really has no extras other than a couple of trailers not related to the film (not coincidentally, one is for Walter Salles' "Central Station" which has a similar story structure). I know this film has its detractors, especially among fans of Kitano's bloodier work, but I find it intriguingly ambiguous and thoroughly enjoyable.
- Dec 13, 2005