By Last Caress.
Released in 1999, Kikujiro is something of a departure from the blood-soaked, action-packed affairs most often associated with its writer/director/star, the legendary “Beat” Takeshi Kitano. A quirky, offbeat and frequently improbable road trip, Kikujiro is also a warm, funny and melancholy tale of a young boy determined to find his mother and the hapless curmudgeon charged with looking after him, and it arrives on Blu-ray next week courtesy of Third Window Films.
Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) is a 9 year-old boy, living with his grandmother in suburban Tokyo. She’s a pleasant lady but she has to go to work, leaving Masao to his own devices for much of the time. His father is dead, his mother… well, she’s “working away”, according to grandma. Masao wears the countenance of one too young and powerless to do anything but accept his lot.
Rooting through some drawers in search of a stamp, Masao finds a photograph of his mother, and an address. She lives in Toyohashi, 150 miles away. Packing his little bag in the way kids do (colouring books, pencils, a little over a tenner in cash), Masao takes off on foot to find her. He doesn’t get far before being robbed by some local teenage louts, but he’s saved by a friend of his grandma and former neighbour who, upon hearing Masao’s plan to visit his mother, instructs her husband Kikujiro (Kitano) to accompany him, giving him £300 for the trip. Kikujiro, a former low-level gangster with his prime far behind him, is a feckless waster and within a day he’s blown all of their money at the races, and from there it’s a 300-mile there-and-back hike in which Kikujiro and Masao encounter a variety of misfits and oddballs; mostly nice, some not so. To begin with, the destination is all that matters to Masao. None of it matters to Kikujiro at all. But, as they go along, it seems that the journey might be something they both needed…
Largely a straightforward road trip, Takeshi Kitano sprinkles Kikujiro with odd touches, bizarre dream sequences and episodes which don’t necessarily play into the typical tropes of the kid-centric buddy picture. Whilst this doesn’t always hit the mark – an early encounter for Masao with a child molester which wouldn’t work in a film of this nature if it was played straight is played for laughs instead, and it still doesn’t work – this approach keeps Kikujiro well clear of the mawkish and saccharine fare it might have become in less adventurous hands, and is to be applauded, although you may appreciate Kikujiro‘s charms more if you don’t ruminate for too long on the shaky premise, and just ride with it (I have a 12 year-old son. If my neighbour ever catches him attempting to abscond 150 miles on foot with no money, provisions or clue, I expect that neighbour to return him to me instantly, not hand him to a middle-aged spiv to assist him on his trip whilst lying to me about taking my son to the beach for the day).
Third Window Film’s blu-ray presentation of Kikujiro in 1.85:1 is clean and artifact free, and colours are vibrant when they present themselves. If I were nitpicking I’d say that the picture resolution is a little on the soft side, though this I’m sure is a trait of the source negatives rather than a result of Third Window’s restoration. Besides, this isn’t Avengers: Age of Ultron. Bleeding edge resolution is not a priority here. The 2-channel DTS-HD Japanese audio sounded perfectly crisp and clear on my soundbar (the score – particularly the piano-driven main theme – by Joe Hisaishi was tearjerkingly sweet and evocative, and a highlight of the movie). The English subtitles were visible throughout and were never out of sync. The extras are limited to just the one “Making Of” feature but it’s huge – over 90 minutes – and even though it’s basically a collage of raw behind-the-camera footage, it’s never dull and frequently funny.
Overall then, Kikujiro might not be to everybody’s tastes and fans of Takeshi Kitano, looking for an adrenaline fix from the man who brought them Violent Cop, Boiling Point and Hana-Bi, may well be bemused to find nothing of the sort here. But if you’re after an easy-going left-of-center tale which is sad, sweet, funny and odd all at once, Kikujiro would be well worth your time.
Third Window Films’ Blu-ray presentation of Kikujiro is out 22/02/2016.
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