Auds get two for the price of one (but not much more) in the curiously titled “Takeshis’,” multihyphenate Takeshi Kitano’s confused look at fame– and especially the conflicts in his own Janus-like career. Alas, intriguing idea runs out of gas early on and starts chasing its own tail in senseless gunplay/violence; the whole endeavor is also colored by an unsettling indecision and self-loathing that makes for labored viewing. Beyond festival outings, this self-reflexive layer cake won’t be getting many takers in Western markets, though Kitano completists will want the DVD.
Kitano has made no bones about the divisions in his career, though this is the first time it’s provided subject matter for a movie. As both actor (under the moniker Beat Takeshi) and writer-director (as Takeshi Kitano), he spreads himself between TV and movie-making: as a popular tube comic-cum-presenter since the late ’70s, and as an internationally known arthouse director since the mid-’90s (“Sonatine,” “Hana-bi”). Essentially, TV provides local celebrity and pays the bills, while movies satisfy him creatively.
“Takeshis’ ” starts out with Kitano playing himself as movie and TV star Beat Takeshi, accompanied by a hood-ornament g.f. (Kotomi Kyono), longtime acquaintance (Susumu Terajima), and all the perils and pleasures of the job.
While preparing for a TV show, he’s asked for his autograph by a quiet guy (Kitano again) who looks exactly like him; the man also has dyed blond hair, just like Beat Takeshi’s screen gangsters, and even claims to have the same real surname.
The autograph hound, Mr. Kitano, turns out to be a convenience store cashier looking for his big break. Outside his simple apartment building, a female fan of Beat Takeshi consistently mistakes Mr. Kitano for the real thing. Inside two neighbors — a yakuza (Terajima again) and his trashy g.f. (Kyono, ditto) — laugh at him behind his back.
One evening, Mr. Kitano comes home with a bagful of guns, telling his neighbors he’s bought them to practice for a role. However, as the worm turns, they turn out to be distressingly real. Or are they?
Film takes a very small, potentially interesting idea but repeatedly covers it with layers of unreality rather than developing the central psychological core. (Pic is an elaboration, with a personal twist, of a long-gestating Kitano project called “Fractal,” about a guy entering repeated imaginary worlds.) Thus, the same actors play multiple roles, and everything is basically revealed as artifice in the end.
The much more interesting story — about Kitano’s own conflicted career — is hardly developed. It’s as if this is an area Kitano doesn’t want to go into too deeply.
Script repeatedly goes down blind alleys that sometimes provide comic relief but increasingly look like empty evasions by the writer-director. Much of the local-style humor recalls Kitano’s comic bomb, “Getting Any?” (1995), and there’s almost no attempt to portray the more spiritual side of Kitano’s filmmaking career (“A Scene at the Sea,” “Hana-bi”).
Pic’s final 35 minutes (following a quiet fadeout) seem tacked on. They constitute a depressing display of artistic frustration, lack of ideas and pure self-loathing, as Kitano resorts to one bullet ballet after another to somehow end the picture.
Performances are fine as far they go, with Kitano his regular blank-faced self, and tech package is pro without being super-slick. Kitanophiles will have a field day spotting refs to his earlier movies, from “Zatoichi” through “Sonatine” to “Boiling Point,” among others.