Kikujiro (1999, Takeshi Kitano)
Kikujro begins with a young lad, Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) at the start of his summer vacation. He lives with his grandmother for his father has passed away and his mother left him at the earliest of ages. Masao stumbles upon a photograph of his mother and suddenly has a newly found urge to finally meat her, even though she’s in another city. To reach her, Masao is accompanied by Kikujiro (played by the director but credited as Beat Kitano), a friend of the family and a real grump. Oh, the adventures these two seemingly incompatible characters will have!
Kikujiro is played in rather straightforward fashion. It goes for emotion, whether through laughter or tears (none shed by this reviewer unfortunately) through a series of episodes that highlight the bonding relationship between Masao and Kikujiro. At first it seems like this may be the young boy’s movie, but I could tell why Kitano’s character gets the title of the film ( I watched the film with French subtitles, and the movie was called ‘Kikujiro’s Summer’ a nice title I might add). Masao's character doesn’t really develop at all throughout the story. It isn’t a ‘coming of age’ film for him. Rather, we see Kikujiro, who at first we detect as impolite, impatient, brutish and at times and opportunistic, as the character who changes and grows as the movie moves along. He speaks in rather vile terms towards most people they come across and even little Masao, but eventually just like in all bonding that should abide by a formula, Kikujiro’s temperament shifts eventually… to a certain degree. I think that’s why I liked the character of Kikujiro. Obviously he can’t possibly remain the same ogre he was at the beginning, otherwise the story arc will have gained nothing. But Kitano doesn’t change him too much, he still keeps his hard edge, even though it becomes obvious that he’s rather fond of the boy by the end. Kitano sells the character convincingly thankfully.
The movie rests on his shoulders and he delivers, even though many of the ‘comedy’ moments didn’t necessarily satisfy my sense of humor (it was a bit too cutesy at times for me). There is a host of secondary characters that we meet along the way, and, while they are fun to a certain extent, I had the impression that they didn’t always feel real, or well developed. It felt as though they were merely there for Masao to have fun. I understand and even like the idea of the ‘unforgettable summer’ in which you meet new people and interesting people with whom you become friends, or at least keep in your memories, but I didn’t have the impression that the supporting cast was playing full fledged people. For those who have seen the movie, I know that there’s a host of counter arguments for what I just said, but that’s where I stand nonetheless