The first thing I should say about Kikujiro is that there’s no unsanctioned chopstick use. No guns. No knives. Not even a stick with a nail in it, although Beat Takeshi’s character cops, or delivers, the odd kicking.
No, this film is an atypical one for director Takeshi, and deliberately so: he sought to make a film that defied the stereotype for Beat Takeshi films. It does, however, bear the director’s stamp: in the same way as a Greenaway or Almodovar film shows its origin, this one is recognisably Takeshi.
From that, I must now say that I enjoyed this film immensely, despite an almost total lack of plot. Perhaps it’s because of the superb characterisations, or because of the subdued realism of the acting, or the carefully constructed interactions between our two road warriors (Takeshi and Yusuke) and those they meet, but the film generates a warm fuzzy feeling that lasts for days.
But don’t be fooled by the feelgood comments: you’ll find no saccharine tyke and lovable rogue in this one. Takeshi delivers characters that are about as far from Hollywood PG-land as it is possible to get. Takeshi’s layabout smalltime yakuza is a scream, and he plays an unlovely role with just the right air of deadpan truculence, always steering a fine course between caricature and melodrama. He’s hard, indeed almost impossible, to like, but that makes it all the more touching when he does something that is almost nice.
Then there’s the boy: he’s achingly real in his responses to situations and the people around him. Instead of adopting a pert and fearless expression and babbling inane psycho-twaddle, as seems to happen so often in Hollywood movies (eeuurch), this boy replies to most situations with an owlish, impenetrable silence. I find this infinitely more believable than the Wesley Crusher effect: small boy saves the universe, and gives all nearby adults a good dose of helpful philosophy in a piping wee voice. I’m sorry, but kids just don’t do that. They don’t know the words, they don’t know the concepts, and if any perky seven-year-old tries offering me advice, he’ll be sent home in his cartoon-character rucksack.
In fact, there’s a refreshing shortage of dialogue overall here, and no-one solves any problems. They interact and part, with no homilies, no vows of eternal friendship or enmity, no anything other than a recognition that it was fun (or not) and now it’s over and time to move one. Mind you, some of the interactions might make you squawk: Takeshi’s character has a gift for provoking others to action, although it’s not always the action he’s looking for. No lives are changed for ever, so we’re safe from that cliche. But the characters experience ordinary and out-of-the-ordinary things, and change a little, as life changes us all, a little.
So, summing up, the plot could be described as “a lowlife takes a boy to find his mother, and then takes him home again”. The effect is by turns funny, sad, bizarre, heartwarming, irritating and incomprehensible. But I guarantee that, if you watch it expecting no answers, you’ll come away with an experience which may just change your life forever.