You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Takeshi Kitano Tired of Gangsters and Commercial Constraints

TOKYO — The mainstream Japanese film industry came in for a surprising volume of criticism Saturday at a Tokyo event intended to celebrate the iconic comedian, actor and director Takeshi Kitano.

The occasion was an on-stage session at which Kitano was named as the first recipient of the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival’s Samurai Prize. He was greeted and quizzed by eight prize-winning student filmmakers, and then lauded by Cannes festival selector Christian Jeune and critic and Asian film expert Tony Rayns.

Looking and sounding as gruff and burdened as ever, Kitano kicked off with a cute anecdote about his early days as a struggling comedian who had to work in bars and massage parlors in order make ends meet. “I scrubbed the backs of Yakuza” gangsters, he said.

Since then, that proximity to organized crime has come in handy. Not only have gritty gangster films become Kitano’s directorial trademark, he revealed that on his first visit to the U.K. London Film Festival officials mistook him for a genuine bad guy.

Now Kitano could be getting weary. “Maybe I’m getting tired of violent movies. I’ve made a few in order to make money,” he said.

Responding a seemingly innocent question about whether foreigners can make Japanese films, Kitano launched into a critique of the academy that selects Japan’s contenders for the foreign-language film Oscar entry.

“Only films from the major studios [Shochiku, Toho and Toei],and sometimes Nikkatsu, get selected. It really annoys me that there is such a narrow source,” he said. “Who are the academy members? And why is it that commercial considerations always limit what filmmakers can say?”

He acknowledged that some restrictions can be helpful to a filmmaker. “A lack of freedom makes you use your imagination,” he said, and also said that he had recycled things he had learned as a director into his comedy.

In an interesting sideswipe, Kitano said that he did not enjoy the cartoons of Hayao Miyazaki, the Studio Ghibli founder and cultural icon honored only a day earlier by the festival and Pixar’s John Lasseter. “I really don’t,” Kitano said. “But it is important to recognize other opinions.”

Rayns echoed Kitano’s commentary about restrictiveness of mainstream Japanese cinema today. “The future of commercial cinema is in the hands of only a few companies. Opportunities for independents may become limited. But other channels will probably emerge [for new filmmaking voices], on the Internet, and through downloading.”

Asked to compare current Japanese cinema with that of Korea, Rayns drew a very unflattering portrait.

“Korea is very dynamic, it is undergoing social and political change. Its culture reflects that. Its films are rooted in change,” Rayns said. “In Japan I don’t see that. I see stasis. I still see same right wing politicians denying the existence of comfort women, the same old stuff we’ve heard for 20, 30 or 40 years. Until we see some challenge to the establishment [in Japan] I don’t think you will see the same dynamism as in Korean cinema.”

Moments later Kitano was asked by media to elaborate on his future film projects, but it turned into a prime example of the conservatism that Kitano and Rayns had criticized.

“I’m done shooting, but I’ve been told to keep quiet,” Kitano replied.

At that point the event emcee cut in to proceedings and, without explaining the reason, said that the festival bosses had ruled such questions as inadmissible.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Once Upon a Time

    Leonardo DiCaprio's Earth Alliance Commits $5 Million to Amazon Fires

    Earth Alliance, an environmental initiative backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, has committed $5 million toward the preservation of the Amazon rain forest following an alarming surge in wildfires. After launching Sunday, the organization’s emergency Amazon Forest Fund is working to support local partners and indigenous communities in their efforts to protect the sensitive habitats within the [...]

  • (from left) Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson)

    Box Office: 'Hobbs & Shaw' Scores $102 Million Debut in China, Nears $600 Million Globally

    Universal’s “Hobbs & Shaw” returned to first place on the international box office charts, thanks to a massive $102 million debut in China. The “Fast & Furious” spinoff, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, collected another $120 million overseas, boosting its foreign tally to $441 million. “Hobbs & Shaw” is nearing the $600 million mark [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    Box Office: 'Angel Has Fallen' Rises to No. 1 With $21 Million Debut

    “Angel Has Fallen,” the third chapter in Lionsgate and Millenium’s action franchise starring Gerard Butler, had a stronger opening weekend than expected, collecting $21.25 million during its first three days of release. Those ticket sales were enough to top domestic box office charts, bumping last weekend’s champ, Universal’s comedy “Good Boys,” to second place. Starring [...]

  • Amanda

    ‘Amanda’ Takes Home Best Int’l Film at 15th Sanfic

    SANTIAGO, Chile    French director Mikhael Hers’ “Amanda” scooped up the Best Int’l Film award Saturday (Aug. 24) at the 15th Santiago Int’l Film Fest (Sanfic), which reported a 20% audience uptick in the past two years and continues to grow its reputation as the most vibrant and prominent film festival in Latin America’s Southern [...]

  • disney d23

    Cruella, Kit Harington and Black Panther's Return: Everything We Learned at D23 Day Two

    Not to be outdone by the avalanche of series orders and casting announcements bolstering the new streaming series Disney Plus, Walt Disney Studios showed off its film wares in a marathon presentation at D23 on Saturday. The Anaheim, Calif. expo brought star power, if perhaps fewer surprises than Friday’s presentation, as fans in princess and [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift'The

    Taylor Swift Downplays Association With Harvey Weinstein

    Taylor Swift’s association with disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was among the topics the singer addressed in a revealing new interview with The Guardian. Weinstein held producer credits for the movies “One Chance” and “The Giver,” both of which featured Swift — in the former, a song, and in the latter, a supporting role. She [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content