Five years after surviving the all-out war between the Sanno and Hanabishi crime families, former yakuza boss Otomo now works in South Korea for Mr. Chang, a renowned fixer whose influence extends into Japan. A relatively minor incident causes tensions to rise between Chang Enterprises and the faraway powerful Hanabishi. The growing conflict gets out of hand and ignites a ferocious power struggle... See full summary »
Achilles and the Tortoise is the last installment in a loose trilogy actor/director Takeshi Kitano has made about the figure of the artist. Whereas the first two entries, Takeshi's and Glory to the Filmmaker, could basically be described as one big self-referential absurdist joke, Achilles is a more controlled film, with a proper story and a precise set of themes, albeit decorated with cheerfully absurd humor.
Such a scenario occurs right from the beginning, in an animated prologue which explains the bizarre title: as pointed out by the philosopher Zeno, if Achilles (the fastest mortal man, according to Greek mythology) and a tortoise competed in a race, and the latter had even the slightest advantage (say three feet), logic demands that in the time required for Achilles to reach that point, the tortoise would keep moving forward, and therefore the famous warrior, paradoxically enough, would never be able to catch up with the notoriously slow animal.
In Kitano's film, Achilles would be Machisu, a young boy fascinated by art, and the tortoise is success. Despite the boy's determination and occasionally bold choices of subjects (he has a knack for painting macabre events), his lack of stylistic originality makes all galleries shun him and most of his friends abandon him. Only his wife will keep supporting him, even in his older days (at this point, Kitano himself plays the role), when they're practically broke and their own daughter is ashamed to live in the same house as them.
Kitano's passion for painting is quite well known among those familiar with his work (he personally makes all the artwork that shows up in his movies), and so Achilles and the Tortoise is a good opportunity for him to use his hobby as a tool to reflect on the elusive subject of art and its various ramifications. Naturally, he does this with his usual penchant for darkly humorous set-ups, especially in the third act, with some scenes so audacious it's doubtful even something like Six Feet Under would have featured them. And yet one does not feel repulsed by those scenes. On the contrary, it's the absurdity of the plot, paired with Kitano's quietly composed directing and minimalistic performance, that constitutes the movie's primary point of attraction. In fact, Kitano's on-screen presence is so charismatic that perhaps he would have been better off shortening the first section of the picture and granting his quirky alter ego more room. Furthermore, the straightforward "happy" ending feels completely at odds with everything else, but then again coming up with a suitably crazy epilogue might have proved too arduous a task.
Ultimately, the only thing that seriously damages a part of this strange and, in its own way, funny opus is the running time (almost two hours), with minor help from the somewhat off- beat conclusion. Nevertheless, Kitano fans are likely to find something to embrace yet again, and anyone with some kind of interest in art should take a good, close look at this original take on the matter.
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