If you made a movie about your life and you had to fit everything you wanted to say in two hours or less, what would it be like? Would you make it symbolic or a literal recounting of your life? Takeshi Kitano undertakes such a feat in the Takeshis’ and illustrates his two warring sides by having two different Takeshis’ in the movie. One is the successful director/actor who is adored by all, and another is a struggling actor who is eking by, fantasizing about being a gangster and doing whatever he wants.
The film, loosely inspired by Fellini’s 8 ½, is rife with strange imagery and moments that seem more like an Alice in Wonderland on hyperdrive than the typical Takeshi film. There are still the unnervingly flat (and tranquil) moments with still camera angles punctuated by brutal bursts of action. I spent much of the film waiting for an “ah-ha” moment, a key to connect all the loose threads. Randomness pervades, as in a caterpillar dance, a line of samurais getting shot down by machine guns, and clowns. By the end of the film, I felt even more lost than I did the first time I saw Mulholland Drive.
With reflection, I could sense that Takeshi was channeling his subconscious into a stream of images that made more sense in light of his background. He began as part of a comic duo and I recall a Japanese friend telling me she could never watch his gangster movies without laughing because she grew up watching his show and loving it. Kitano has always gone his own way, ignoring critics, not following the traditional gangster formulas but instead, incorporating a philosophically sobering atmosphere. Brooding and silence go hand in hand with the vicious attack sequences in his films, as does a self-consciousness that is all too aware of what’s expected as he throws in doses of humor. At the same time, I thought the dream image of him driving a taxi while a bunch of strangers want him to do disparate things as he is navigating a road full of dead bodies was a strange, but apt, analogy for the way he’s viewed not only his life, but filmmaking. He seems almost skeptical and dubious of his fame and honor, even though he craves it. There are some visually flash moments, like the techno dance from the bald gangster with the bloody face and the outdoor shooting that turns bullet fire into constellations. Two sides of him struggle for dominance and though they seem like opposing forces, they are actually one and the same, pricking him through his daydreams at a liquor store, disposing of bodies that aren’t there, making love to his annoying neighbor who taunts him but is actually already his lover.
Takeshis’ seems like it’s a commentary on duality when the duality is just an illusion. At the end, all he’s left with is himself, a fake tattoo being drawn on his back as he ponders the dead ghosts of his past films.
As this is a trilogy of films, I look forward to watching the next two in the series.