Film Commentary [7-3-00]
Japanese Road Movie - - Kikujiro
Genre: Comedy
Grade = C-

The first Japanese movie to play in a theater in Houston this year. Why did it have to be this one?

Kikojiro is the latest film of director and star of the film Takeshi Kitano, who usually makes yakusa films (Sonatine, Violent Cop, Hana-Bi). However, this is a comedy and a road picture. The movie is divided into nine chapters from the child's summer journal. Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi), a nine year-old boy, lives with his grandmother (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), who works at a nearby sushi stand. He is lonely during the school summer vacation and has nothing to do. While looking around the house, he discovers a photo album with his mother's picture and a letter from her with her address in a distant country town. He decides to runaway to visit her.

Just starting out, he meets up with his grandmother's friend, a bar owner. She listens to his story and assigns her husband Kikujiro (Takeshi), a low-level yakusa and complete slacker to take him to visit his mother. With nothing else to do, Kikujiro agrees to take him and she gives them 50,000 yen for the trip. They start out on the journey and he promptly takes them to the bike races to gamble. He loses all their money and they are reduced to hitchhiking. The film then becomes a road picture, the first Japanese one that I have seen. After a series of misadventures, hitching rides with strangers and meeting strange people on the road including an artist who lives in a van and two bikers who look ferocious but Kikujiro is able to bully completely, naming them fatso and baldy. They eventually reach what they think is Masao's mothers house, only to see a woman with her husband and little daughter. Masao is crushed.

The problem with this film is multifold. Both the main characters are not particularly likable, Kikojuro is an obnoxious loud mouth without any brains nor is the character portrayed with any charisma. The boy portraying Masao has something in common with Jake Lloyd as Anikan Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I, he can't act. The kid spends most of his time looking down at the ground dejectedly. No talent what-so-ever.

Another major problem was the eighth chapter, where Kikujiro, the artist, baldy and fatso play a series of games with the boy to try to cheer him up. It just went on and on and on until I was wondering when the hell it was going to end already. The movie was moderately funny up until this point (except for the incident where Masao is accosted by a child molester which I thought was unnecessary in this type of movie). The games sequence brought the movie to a screeching halt from which the film did not recover. One of the few good features of the film is a look at the Japanese countryside and rural settings of a majority of the film's scenes. Most of what we see on film is the Japanese city life.

The only reason that this film was distributed in the U.S. was because of the film's director's former reputation. There is simply no other reason, not when there are great comedies like Happy Family Plan that can only get seen at American film festivals.

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