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Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano) 2000 

    Takeshi Kitanoís wonderful Kikujiro seems an anachronism in the directorís oeuvre, but that its whimsical story of Masao, a 9 year old Japanese boy, and his search for his mother could take place just outside of Kitanoís world of Yakuza bad-asses and lecherous thugs makes it all the more impressive. Like many of the directorís films, the film is often unusually quiet, and the tone shifts constantly, always threatening to wobble off into thematic incoherence. It never does here. The framing device, which presents the segments of the movie as if they were chapters in a scrapbook describing how the young boy spent his summer vacation, goes a long way toward allowing us to accept whatever zaniness is thrown at us. The movie charms precisely because the hooligans it present take time out of their schedule of debauchery to entertain the kid at the storyís center. The underlying sadness, though, is that they are all acting as a surrogate for the parent that Masao misses, and that makes the time spent with them incredibly endearing. 

    The plot may be thin here, but the level of inventiveness is exceptionally high. Kitano seems to simply want to play with the audience for a while, and he trots out a number of scenes that are utterly unlike anything that Iíve seen before. The movie stops for minutes on end as we watch people dress up like fish or act like robots, and although it sounds nonsensical, itís really quite extraordinary. Surely, some of the originality that I perceive owes a debt to the cultural differences between my American sensibilities and this Japanese film, but few Japanese films that Iíve seen, outside of Miyazakiís, have been this fancifully captivating (though thatís probably more my fault than theirs). The journey in this road movie seems to point obviously toward the maturation of the boy, but his companion, played by Kitano, continually diverts him, extending the amount of time that heíll be allowed to remain innocent. If thereís not much tension to be found in Kikujiro, that shouldnít come as a surprise, since even Kitanoís action flicks feel a bit subdued. Masao is a tentative little tyke and a far cry from our Ritalin-addled youth here in America. A good portion of his dialogue consists of grunts, but that only further etches out the core of sadness here. Kikujiro, like the games that the characters in the film play, seems to offer a temporary distraction from the disappointments of reality. 

***1/2 

02-15-02 

Jeremy Heilman