Fans of the internationally popular “Beat” Takeshi Kitano are the likeliest targets for this tale of his misspent youth, adapted from his memoirs by members of the Office Kitano crowd. Made for Nippon TV, good-looking DV pic could have arthouse legs if trimmed a bit and transferred to film.
Highly entertaining, this ’60s-set tale centering on a post-adolescent drifter (Hakase Suidobashe) who works his way up the ranks at an old-fashioned burlesque house paints a fascinating insider’s picture of the little-known world of Japanese vaudeville. That the drifter — seen taking tap dancing lessons and eager to learn all aspects of the biz — turns out to be “Brother” helmer “Beat” Takeshi adds another layer of fun, as do many period references to genre pics and fading styles of pop culture.
Designer Kouichi Kanekatsu’s recreation of faux-elegant stage settings for the club’s ruling strippers is especially rich. There are very funny backstage scenes with Saburou Ishikura as the imperious, stone-faced master of the joint’s ramshackle comedy troupe, and these are aided by deadpan quick cutting. Stylistically, pic is a major departure from helmer Makoto Shinozaki’s debut feature, “Not Forgotten,” a sentimental, carefully shot 35mm tribute to Japan’s WWII vets.
Here, the hand-held lensing and naturalistic sound and lighting add immediacy to unpredictable episodes. Only final quarter, with the young Kitano resenting the successes of another bumpkin even more clueless than he, drag a bit. But they do lead to him leaving the company with a fellow thesp to form standup-comedy duo called the Two Beats — thus explaining origins of the hard-boiled helmer’s longstanding nickname, also echoed in Kitano pics like “Kids Return.”