Brother star/director Takeshi Kitano
Japan's one man entertainment industry Takeshi Kitano recently spoke with FILMINK's Pauline Adamek in LA about his new gangster film Brother.
Takeshi Kitano, aka 'Beat' Takeshi, was reportedly kicked out of engineering school for rebellious behaviour. He turned to comedy, singing and dancing, gracing a nightclub stage at the last minute when asked to replace the scheduled comedian. He formed the comic duo 'The Two Beat' (hence his acting nickname 'Beat' Takeshi) and soon was popular on Japanese TV. Next he moved onto acting and when the intended director of Violent Cop (1989) fell ill, he took over directing as well.
First up I ask him about a recent motorcycle accident that some insinuated was an attempted suicide.
“I was told by the doctor when I gained consciousness after the accident that I had one hour memory loss before the accident so I don't really remember what happened an hour between my memory loss and the accident itself. But practically speaking, I was very drunk and I was on a motorbike and it's natural to think that I knew that it was very dangerous to ride on a motorbike with that much alcohol in me, so scientifically speaking it is an intentional act of semi-suicide, I have to say.”
He laughs before continuing. “A funny thing happened during the recuperation period. The doctor told me that since I hit the right side of my face, the left side of my lower body would possibly be paralysed. And the moment I heard that comment, I instantly squeezed my intestines to the right side of my body so that my intestines would still work even if the left side was paralysed so that I could still screw girls!”
Although hugely popular as a TV entertainer, the Japanese critics and sheep-like audiences were slow to grant Takeshi"‘san recognition as a filmmaker. It wasn't really until the international success of movies such as Hana"‘bi and Kikujiro that he gained acceptance as a director.
With Brother he reached the number one slot at the Japanese box office. Like most aspects of life, Takeshi finds this amusing: “I would like to say, 'You guys are late!' [laughs] The Japanese public ignored me for eight films and now it's about time. The fact that my film finally got recognition from the Japanese public means that I'll be on the downhill from this point on.”
The timing of this newfound acceptance remains a mystery. “I wish I could analyse why now, but I can't. If I could have been able to analyse that in the first place, I would have made huge, blockbuster films long ago!”
Takeshi, who edited Brother as well as writing and directing, casts himself in a familiar role as a stone"‘faced, hard"‘as"‘nails gangster and again proves he is a master of calm, expressionless cinematic fury. “When I depict violence in my films,” he explains, “I always keep in mind to depict it in a way that conveys to the audience something adverse. Violence in real life is something painful and unpleasant to watch. I'm opposed to showing violence as some sort of video game without accompanying the painfulness and the result of the violence. That would mislead the audience to try to imitate it.”
The film's main character, Yamamoto, punches, kicks and blasts his way through LA's underworld, systematically eradicating rivals until only the Mafia stand in the way of his domination of the city's drug racket. His unflinching resolve and fearlessness are stunning.
Takeshi explains his character's motivation: “Before he came over to Los Angeles, he belonged to the Yakuza but his gang"‘family collapsed when his boss was murdered by enemies. He would have staked his life to kill the boss of the enemy family, but his own Yakuza brother made an alliance with the former enemy which brings him to the position where he cannot kill the enemy boss because that would go against his brother. So, he was in a dead end in Japan. It's pretty much safe to say in his mind he's already dead. Going to Los Angeles for him was just a journey to find a place to die.”
With Brother, Takeshi once again places his characters on a violent stage of cops and criminals. More specifically this time, the Japanese mob. “The Yakuza, as an organisation, is the collection of persons who are expelled from the ordinary or mainstream society. The Yakuza family adopts those outsiders so they can have somewhere to belong.”
Like criminal organisations the world over, the Yakuza build a familial yet deadly social structure. “There is a rule among the Yakuza society which is that once you become a member of the family, you have the obligation to sacrifice your life at any time for the sake of the family, for the sake of your boss or your brother.”
In a culture where outsiders are misunderstood and generally feared, some have suggested the existence of the Yakuza shows Japanese society lacks a sense of love. Happily, and with customary wit, Takeshi dismisses the idea: “If the Yakuza organisation was the only place for people who felt that society lacked a sense of love, then the whole population of Japan would have to belong to the Yakuza!”