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'Kikujiro' tells sweet but long-winded story

Saturday, July 15, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Takeshi Kitano and Beat Takeshi, the director and star respectively of the Japanese film "Kikujiro," are the same person. The first is his real name, the second his stage name. His movies display different personalities as well.


Rating: PG-13 for a threatening incident.

Starring: Beat Takeshi and Yusuke Sekiguchi.

Director: Takeshi Kitano.

Web site:

Critic's call: 2 1/2 stars


His early movies, "Violent Cop," "Boiling Point" and "Sonatine," were gangster films noted for their violence and style. But "A Scene at the Sea" told the gentler tale of a deaf adolescent who loves surfing.

"Kikujiro," now at the Harris Theater, falls into the second category. It features 9-year-old Yusuke Sekiguchi as Masao, a lonely boy living with his grandmother in the city. She says his father is dead and his mother is working in another city some distance away.

One day, Masao finds a picture of his mother and an address. He is determined to visit her, but he has no hope of getting there by himself. So a friend of his grandmother tells her hapless husband, Kikujiro, to accompany the boy.

But has she really helped the lad or just made matters worse? Kikujiro is an irresponsible lout, a bully who blames others for his own misfortunes and can never acknowledge his shortcomings. He gambles away Masao's money and reduces them to hitching rides or just walking on various steps of their journey.

Masao seems to have more sense than Kikujiro, who acts like little more than an overgrown boy himself. If someone else does something, he has to do it better -- even if he can't. He will do almost anything to get his way, and flee the consequences when it inevitably goes wrong. He's mischievous, impulsive and loudmouthed.

But say this for him: He never gives up. As the journey continues, we discover similarities between the man and the boy, who begin to take care of each other. We can see where this is headed, if not precisely how their trek will turn out.

And there's the rub. After what appears to be the culmination of their journey, the recurring piano motif by Joe Hisaishi swells, and we expect the final credits to run. It turns out, however, that there are more people to meet, more games to play, more summer vacation to transpire. A couple of key scenes occur in this portion of the film, and Kikujiro's playfulness reaches its full flower.

Yet I couldn't help wondering how much of this part of the trip is really necessary. At the beginning, Masao is always running. As the movie unfolds, Kitano starts holding his scenes for a beat, then two or three more after the action concludes, emphasizing the increasingly dreamlike pace and settings. But it makes a two-hour movie seem even longer.

The fun comes in contrasting Takeshi's clownish big bad boy with Yusuke's sweet, head-hanging patience. Kitano shoots from just far enough away most of the time to turn Kikujiro's boorishness into comedy. Fortunately, his penchant for throwing bizarre dream sequences and camera angles into the mix occurs infrequently.

The frustration comes in trying to decipher white-on-white subtitles, which must occur in at least a quarter of the film. It is to Kitano's credit that he stages his scenes so well that, most of the time, we can figure out what is going on in any case.

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