Kitano Takeshi (born 18 January 1947) is a Japanese film director, comedian, singer, actor, film editor, presenter, screenwriter, author, poet, painter, and one-time video game designer who has received critical acclaim, both in his native Japan and abroad, for his idiosyncratic cinematic work. The Japanese film critic Nagaharu Yodogawa once dubbed him "the true successor" to influential filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. With the exception of his works as a film director, he is known almost exclusively by the name Beat Takeshi. Since April 2005, he has been a professor at the Graduate School of Visual Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts. Kitano owns his own talent agency and production company, Office Kitano, which launched Tokyo Filmex in 2000.
Some of Kitano's earlier films are dramas about Yakuza gangsters or the police. Described by critics as using an acting style that is highly deadpan or a camera style that approaches near-stasis, Kitano often uses long takes where little appears to be happening, or editing that cuts immediately to the aftermath of an event. Many of his films express a bleak or nihilistic philosophy, but they are also filled with humor and affection for their characters. Kitano's films leave paradoxical impressions and can seem controversial. The Japanese public knows him primarily as a TV host and comedian, and he is well remembered for the leading role of the comedy show Oretachi Hyokin-zoku (1981 -1989) and for the game show Takeshi's Castle (1986 - 1989).
He hosts a weekly television program called Beat Takeshi's TV Tackle, a kind of panel discussion among entertainers and politicians regarding controversial current events.
In 2010 the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain in Paris held a one-man show displaying his paintings and installations. A room in the basement played a 12-hour loop of his work as a TV host.
Kitano was born in Umejima, Adachi, Tokyo in 1947. After dropping out of Meiji University, where he studied engineering for four years, he found work as an elevator operator in a strip club and learned a great deal about the business from the comedian Fukami Senzaburo. When one of the club's regular performers fell ill, Kitano took his place on stage, and a new career was born.
In the 1970s, he formed a comic duo with his friend Kaneko Kiyoshi. They took on the stage names Beat Takeshi and Beat Kiyoshi; together referring to themselves as Two Beat (sometimes romanized as The Two Beats). This sort of duo comedy, known as manzai in Japan, usually features a great deal of high-speed back-and-forth banter between the two performers. Kiyoshi played the straight man (tsukkomi) against Takeshi's funny man (boke). In 1976, they performed on television for the first time and became a success, propelling their act onto the national stage. The reason for their popularity had much to do with Kitano's material, which was much more risqu¨¦ than traditional manzai. The targets of his jokes were often the socially vulnerable, including the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, children, women, the ugly and the stupid. Complaints to the broadcaster led to censorship of some of Kitano's jokes and the editing of offensive dialogue. Kitano confirmed in a video interview that he was forbidden to access the NHK studios for five years for having exposed his body during a show when it was totally forbidden.
Although Two Beat was one of the most successful acts of its kind during the late 1970s and 1980s, Kitano decided to go solo and the duo was dissolved. Some autobiographical elements relating to his manzai career can be found in his film Kids Return (1996). Beat Kiyoshi has a bit part in Kitano's 1999 film Kikujiro as "Man at the bus stop".
Many of Kitano's routines involved him portraying a gangster or other harsh character, and his first major film role, in Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (where he starred opposite Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Bowie), featured him cast as a tough (but sympathetic) POW camp sergeant during World War II.
After several other roles, mostly comedic, in 1989 he was cast as the lead in Violent Cop, playing a sociopathic detective who responds to every situation with violence. When the original director (Kinji Fukasaku) fell ill, Kitano offered to step in, and rewrote the script heavily. The result was a financial and critical success in Japan, and the beginning of Kitano's career as a filmmaker.
Kitano's second film as director and first film as screenwriter, released in 1990, was Boiling Point. Ono Masahiko plays the lead role of a young man whose baseball coach is threatened by the local yakuza. He and a friend travel to Okinawa to purchase guns so they can get revenge, but along the way they are befriended by a psychotic gangster played by Kitano, who is plotting his own revenge. With complete control of the script and direction, Kitano uses this film to cement his style: shocking violence, bizarre black humor and stoically shot 'still' scenes. In spite of this, the film was considered a failure and did not recover its production costs upon initial release.
Kitano's third film, A Scene at the Sea, was released in 1991. It featured no gangsters, but instead a deaf garbage collector who is determined to learn how to surf after discovering a broken surfboard while working. A young girl (also deaf) follows his progress and is quick to assist him wherever possible. Kitano's more delicate, romantic side came to the fore here, along with his trademark deadpan approach. The film garnered numerous nominations and awards, including Best Film at the prestigious Blue Ribbon Awards.
Foreign audiences (that would outnumber his domestic audience in the coming years) began to take notice of Kitano after the 1993 release of Sonatine. Kitano plays a Tokyo yakuza who is sent by his boss to Okinawa to help end a gang war there. He is tired of gangster life, and when he finds out the whole mission is a ruse, he welcomes what comes with open arms.
The 1995 release of Getting Any? (Minna Yatteruka!) showed Kitano returning to his comedic roots. This Airplane!-like assemblage of comedic scenes, all centering loosely around a Walter Mitty-type character trying to have sex in a car, met with little acclaim in Japan. Much of the film satirizes popular Japanese culture, such as Ultraman or Godzilla and even the Zatoichi character that Kitano himself would go on to play eight years later. That year Kitano also appeared in the film adaptation of William Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic (1995), although his on-screen time was greatly reduced for the American cut of the film.
In August 1994, Kitano was involved in a motorscooter accident and suffered injuries that caused the paralysis of one side of his body, and required extensive surgery to regain the use of his facial muscles. (The severity of his injuries was apparently due to the fact that he was not wearing a helmet.) Kitano later stated that the accident was actually an "unconscious suicide attempt". Some[who?] speculated that the depression leading to the accident may explain the nihilistic atmosphere of his early films. Kitano made Kids Return in 1996, soon after his recovery. At the time it became his most successful film yet in his native Japan.
After his motorscooter accident, Kitano took up painting. His bright, simplified style is reminiscent of Marc Chagall. His paintings have been published in books, featured in gallery exhibitions, and adorn the covers of many of the soundtrack albums for his films. His paintings were featured prominently in his most critically acclaimed film, 1997's Hana-bi. Although for years already Kitano's largest audience had been the foreign arthouse crowd, Hana-bi cemented his status internationally as one of Japan's foremost modern filmmakers.
Among his most significant roles were Nagisa Oshima's 1999 film Taboo, where he played Captain Hijikata Toshizo of the Shinsengumi. Kikujiro, released in 1999, featured Kitano as a ne'er-do-well crook who winds up paired up with a young boy looking for his mother, and goes on a series of misadventures with him.
Kitano plays Kitano in Battle Royale (2000), a controversial Japanese blockbuster set in a bleak dystopian future where a group of teenagers are randomly selected each year to eliminate each other on a deserted island.
Brother (2000), shot in Los Angeles, had Kitano as a deposed Tokyo yakuza setting up a drug empire in L.A. with the aid of a local gangster played by Omar Epps. Despite a large buzz around Kitano's first English language film, the film was met with tepid response in the US and abroad. Dolls (2002) had Kitano directing but not starring in a film with three different stories about undying love; it met with largely favorable critical and public reception.
Between the disappointing response to Brother and Dolls, Kitano became a punching bag for the press in the United States. Criticism was less severe in Europe and Asia though many commentators were not as lavish with their praise as they had been with previous Kitano films. 2003's Zat¨ichi, in which Kitano directed and starred, silenced many of these dissenters. With a new take on the character from Shintaro Katsu's long-running film and TV series, Zat¨ichi was Kitano's biggest box office success in Japan, did quite well in limited release across the world, and won countless awards at home and abroad, including the Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.
Kitano's film, Takeshis' was released in Japan in November 2005.
Kitano used to be a regular collaborator with composer Joe Hisaishi, who has created scores for many of his films. However, during the making of Dolls they had an argument, apparently over which tunes to include on the film's soundtrack, and have not worked together since.
Kitano has written over fifty books of poetry, film criticism, and several novels, a few of which have also been adapted into movies by other directors.
He has also become a popular television host. Takeshi's Castle, a game show hosted in the 1980s by Kitano featuring slapstick-style physical contests, has gained cult popularity in the United States (where portions are broadcast on Spike TV as MXC, formerly Most Extreme Elimination Challenge) and in the United Kingdom where it was given a voiceover by Craig Charles, though these feature very little of Takeshi Kitano as they are heavily edited. In Italy, the program was known as Mai dire Banzai with Kitano's character renamed Mashiro Tamigi. It was commented by Gialappa's Band and helped launch their career in Italian TV. Takeshi's Castle has also become a popular hit among kids & adults in India (with vernacular commentary by the actor comedian Javed Jaffri) after being broadcast on a popular kids channel (POGO). This show also appeared and became famous in Indonesia.
He hosted Koko ga Hen da yo Nihonjin, a talk show where a large panel of Japanese-speaking foreigners from around the world debate current issues in Japanese society. Another of his shows is Sekai Marumie ("The World Exposed"), a weekly collection of various interesting video clips from around the world, often focusing on the weird aspects of other countries, and with a regular section on daring rescues, taken from the American program Rescue 911. On this show, he plays the childlike idiot, insulting the guests, and usually appears with kigurumi and wearing strange costumes during the show.
Kitano was awarded a Bachelor of Science in engineering by Meiji University on 7 September 2004, 34 years after he dropped out to pursue his career in entertainment.
In May 2012, he garnered criticism for comments made on television that were construed as comparing same-sex marriage with bestiality. After seeing footage of people celebrating president Obama's declaration regarding same-sex marriage, he said, "Obama supports gay marriage. You would support a marriage to an animal eventually, then".
Kitano's 2010 film, Outrage, screened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. His 2012 film, Outrage Beyond, screened in competition at the 69th Venice International Film Festival. He also appeared in Yasuo Furuhata's 2012 film, Dearest. In September 2012, Takeshi Kitano said that the producers wanted him to make the third Outrage film (reported in Screen International magazine on 5 September 2012).