Boiled down from over 100 hours of video shot during the production of Takeshi Kitano’s 1999 Cannes competitor, “Kikujiro,” “Jam Session” is still way too long even at 92 minutes. Though in retrospect one of Kitano’s earlier pics, such as the critically successful “Hana-Bi,” would have made a more interesting making-of, there’s a failure at the heart of this docu to penetrate the Japanese maestro’s personality or provide the kind of informative material that buffs look for in films of this kind. Cut back to an hour, “Jam Session” could make a reasonable intro to showings of “Kikujiro.”
First half starts OK but turns into a long slog as director Makoto Shinozaki (who made the impressively controlled “Okaeri” in ’95) doggedly follows from location to location the tedious process of shooting — to rapidly diminishing returns. A visit by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien during post-production promises more than it delivers (Hou finally sidles off, embarrassed); a final montage, played to the movie’s score, is the best and most moving part of the docu.
Kitano emerges as a quiet, sometimes genial man who’s treated with utter deference by his crew (they always laugh at his jokes) and who, paradoxically, almost has to steal time away from his popular TV show to make the movies for which he is known around the world. Of his working methods, we learn that his scripts are often heavily changed during shooting (“Kikujiro” originally had a completely different ending), and that since his second picture he’s adopted the Woody Allen approach of shooting, editing and then going back to shoot extra scenes.
After “Hana-Bi,” Kitano wanted to break away from his usual style, “even though I keep slipping back into it.” Unafraid to push the comical and surreal elements in “Kikujiro,” which he calls a “fairy tale,” he realizes he is taking a chance with his public; if the pic fails, he says wryly, he can always go back to the violent type of film, which he sees as his “insurance.” That’s about it for insights into an ineffably complex personality. Shinozaki’s fly-on-the-wall camera, jerking and zooming hither and yon, only scratches the surface of one of contemporary cinema’s major artists.
Transfer to 16mm is only OK.