on May 26, 2000 by Ed Scheid
   Japanese Renaissance man Takeshi Kitano's "Kikujiro" is lighter and more playful in tone than his previous crime-oriented films like "Fireworks." Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) is a gloomy boy who's living with his grandmother after his father died in an accident. His grandmother has told him that his mother, whom he has never met, is away working. Masao feels bored and alone after his friend goes away for summer vacation. Finding a photo of his mother and her address, he decides to search for her.
   A former neighbor who's a friend of his grandmother finds out about the boy's quest. She tells her lazy husband Kikujiro (Beat Takeshi, Kitano's acting name) to accompany Masao and tells the grandmother that the two have gone to the beach. Early on the trip, Kikujiro gambles the boy's money at a racetrack.
   Kitano/Takeshi skillfully creates a distinctive character in the cynical and manipulative Kikujiro. Takeshi works well opposite the natural performance of young Sekiguchi in his film debut. The hard edge of Kikujiro's character keeps the film from becoming overly sentimental as Kikujiro gradually warms to his young companion. The journey to find the boy's mother makes for an engaging and often affecting road movie.
   Kitano's talent as an artist is apparent in the unique visual style of the film. Working with his regular director of photography (Katsumi Yanagishima) and lighting director (Hitoshi Takaya), Kitano gives his film a vivid look through the bright colors of his costumes and settings. There are imaginative touches throughout the film, including the boy's fantasies (like Kikujiro as samurai) coming to life and in the clever manipulation of drawings of angels. Starring Beat Takeshi and Yusuke Sekiguchi. Directed and written by Takeshi Kitano. Produced by Masayuki Mori and Takio Yoshida. An SPC release. Comedy/Drama. Japanese-language; subtitled. Running time: 122 min
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