Cannes: 3 questions with Takeshi Kitano

Cannes: 3 questions with Takeshi Kitano

Takeshi Kitano has had enough careers for three. Starting out as a stand-up comedian in Tokyo strip clubs under the moniker Beat Takeshi, he first rose to fame on Japanese TV, achieving international success with Takeshi Castlea slapstick-style physics game that inspired an entire genre (It’s a knockout, Cancel).

After starring in a string of Japanese comedies, Kitano made his international film debut as a tough prison camp sergeant in Nagisa Oshima’s film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence alongside David Bowie. But Japanese audiences still saw him as the funny man on TV (Kitano remembers when he watched him Merry Christmas with a Japanese audience, saying that “the moment my character appeared on the screen, every single person in the theater burst out laughing!”).

Related stories

Determined to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor, he created roles for himself by writing and directing feature films such as Violent cop (1989), Boiling point (1990) and Sonata (1993): Crime thriller/comedy starring Kitano as a deadpan yakuza gangster or neo-noir cop.

1997 Hana-bi (that is to say Fireworks), which combined these clichés with a delicate love story — Kitano plays a retired cop carrying his dying wife while battling yakuza loan sharks — won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, stating the director as one of Japan’s most important modern filmmakers.

Much of his output since then has been yakuza thrillers (BrotherTHE Indignation trilogy) and arthouse dramas (Kikujiro, Dolls), but his biggest success came in 2003 with Zatoichian adaptation of a long-running Japanese film and television franchise about a blind samurai.

At 76, Kitano shows no signs of slowing down. He recently rebooted Takeshi Castle for Amazon Prime in Japan and finished his 20th film (“not my last,” he insists). It’s bad is a 16th-century epic chronicling the event surrounding the so-called Honnō-ji Incident, in which a group of samurai tried to assassinate the Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga. The event, which would shape Japanese history, has long been a source of speculation and conspiracy theories about the motivations of those involved.

Kitano has spoken The Hollywood Reporter at the Cannes Film Festival 2023, where It’s bad had a special screening out of competition.

You’ve had an amazing and diverse career: as a stand-up comedian, reality show host, actor, director, even singer. Looking back on all of this, your entire career, what are you most proud of?

I’d say my career is so varied because I haven’t been able to succeed at one thing, and then I’d try the next thing and then the next thing and then the next thing So really, looking back, there’s nothing to be proud of.

My first meeting with you was over Takeshi Castlebut the first film of yours that I saw was hanabi, which shocked me. It also won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. What do you remember of that experience and how has people’s perception of you changed, in Japan and internationally, after you won the Golden Lion?

Well, just before that movie I had been in a serious accident, a motorcycle accident. People even wrote that I would not be able to recover. But I did hanabi, took it to Venice, and won the Golden Lion, as you said. What was interesting was what I had done, I was doing, it was kind of a break with the past generation (of Japanese cinema) and I was trying to do new things. All of this was then linked to my accident. People were writing very negative things about me. Then I won in Venice and this changed everything. And it made me think that “oh, well, that’s how authority works.” It’s not really about me, because nothing about me had changed. Now I had a little more decoration, a prize, and suddenly they began to respect me. I remember thinking: This is a strange world.

Your new movie, It’s bad, is another samurai film, but about a very specific and pivotal point in Japanese history, the 16th century uprising against warlord Oda Nobunaga. You’ve spent a lot of time with this story, you’ve researched the story, you’ve even written a book about it. What is it about this particular story that fascinates you so much?

When you look at Japanese history, the Warring States era, which is where the story takes place, is the most interesting period for me. But usually history was written by the people surrounding these great and powerful figures and was often not truthful or biased. As for the riot, there are many different theories as to what actually happened. I really looked into it and then I used my imagination and came up with a theory. Of course, an academic looking at this might say that’s not true. But I think most of what I depicted is what actually happened.