In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Takeshi Kitano

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Interviews
  • Aesthetics/Production

Cinema and Media Studies Takeshi Kitano
Bob Davis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0356


Takeshi Kitano was born on 18 January 1947, the youngest of a Tokyo working-class couple’s four children. Prodded by his mother, Takeshi excelled in math and art at a top state high school, then studied engineering in college before dropping out to pursue he-wasn’t-sure-quite-what. In 1973, after stints as an elevator boy and emcee in Asakusa’s France-za comedy-slash-strip club, Kitano, together with Kiyoshi Kaneko, formed a standup duo called The Two Beats. Irreverent and bawdy, the manzai pair achieved a degree of national recognition. A decade later, Nagisa Oshima cast “Beat Takeshi” as the brutal Sergeant Hara in his surreal 1983 POW camp drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and then, in 1989, Kitano became a first-time director when veteran filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku withdrew during pre-production from a project in which Beat Takeshi was to star. Kitano rewrote the script and, though he had no film-directing training, imposed on his debut an unusually austere visual and aural aesthetic. Since then, the two Takeshis (Beat and Kitano) have managed parallel careers. While Beat Takeshi regularly hosted two handfuls of absurdist, vulgar, silly, reactionary prime-time network shows each week—one of them, Takeshi’s Castle, a game show in which milk industry workers challenge midwives, or real-estate agents challenge high school baseball coaches, to humiliating tests of coordination and daring, has even been dubbed and syndicated worldwide—Takeshi Kitano, our focus here, made seventeen more feature films and one short. The director received increased international attention in 1997 when his seventh film, Hana-bi, won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale and Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures picked up his fourth, Sonatine, for North American distribution. But the films Kitano directed after Hana-bi have typically been read as attempts to defy the authorial persona his earlier films conjured.

General Overviews

Stephens 1995, Jacobs 1999, Richie 2001, and Schwartz 2001 provide excellent (accessible, concise, jargon-free) introductions to Kitano and his directorial work up to their publication dates. Schilling 1997 does the same for Kitano and his TV work. Abe 2004 combines an idiosyncratically philosophical bent and a careful attention to the texture of Kitano’s films. Gerow 2007 provides a more traditionally academic work, one indispensable for those who are not yet fluent readers of Japanese, in that it integrates a wealth of critical Japanese-language sources into investigations of Kitano’s life and work. Thomas 2007 and Redmond 2013 eschew traditional scholarly categories—and the latter, even remotely conventional language patterns—in their pursuits of a more personal détente with their subject. See also Schilling 1999, Hasumi 2005, and Temman 2010 (all cited under Interviews) for wide-ranging interviews with the filmmaker.

  • Abe, Casio. Beat Takeshi vs. Takeshi Kitano. New York: Kaya Press, 2004.

    This translation of Abe’s seminal study also includes seven pieces on Kitano the critic wrote during the decade following its 1994 publication in Japan. The book stands apart from other appraisals of Kitano in its astute and unpretentious dialogue with its subject, with other Japanese commentators, with Japan at large, and with itself.

  • Gerow, Aaron. Kitano Takeshi. London: British Film Institute, 2007.

    Gerow divides his text into two sections. “The Auteur” includes a lengthy biographical sketch, focusing on Kitano’s childhood, his manzai comedy, his “evasive” politics, and his TV work, and syntheses of several of the themes that Kitano scholarship tends to concern itself with. “The Films” offers detailed readings of each of Kitano’s features through Zatoichi. Gerow’s research is exemplary. His dialogue with a host of Japanese film theorists makes his book invaluable.

  • Jacobs, Brian, ed. “Beat” Takeshi Kitano. Edgware, UK: Tadao Press, 1999.

    An enlightening collection of materials. Takako Imai’s “Born to Be Wild” provides a wealth of biographical detail from Kitano’s early childhood through the manzai years. Tomohiro Machiyama’s “A Comedian Star is Born” assembles highlights of Beat Takeshi’s often outrageous stage, radio, and TV careers. Interviews with Oshima Nagisa, Jeremy Thomas, and Tom Conti, along with an essay by Casio Abe, explore Kitano’s acting. Plus festival reports, short film reviews, an art gallery, and an appreciation of Kitano’s mother.

  • Redmond, Sean. The Cinema of Takeshi Kitano—Flowering Blood. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231163330.001.0001

    Redmond’s work is an idiosyncratic combination of poetic (faux?) self-absorption and Deleuzian daydream. His short book organizes the affective complexities of Kitano’s films into five thematic chapters, covering time and space (which Redmond suggests Kitano forges into a willed chaos); violence (physical, psychological, and technological); otherness (minorities, the feminine, America); celebrity (Kitano’s “performance” of “Beat” Takeshi); and the sea and political “liquidity.” The ambiguities of Redmond’s language often make tracking his ideas difficult. His thought-stream is most valuable when it uses Kitano’s own words (on color, for example) to emphasize the “haptic” and “relational” rather than the representational or meaningful.

  • Richie, Donald. “The New Independents.” In A Hundred Years of Japanese Film. By Donald Richie, 223–227. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2001.

    Richie drives Kitano, along with Yoshimitsu Morita, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and Shinji Aoyama, into a corral of post-studio filmmakers whose postmodern “cool”—in Japanese, dorai (dry)—connected them with younger audiences. Richie shrewdly links Kitano’s films to a manga aesthetic, their static and occasionally one-scene-one-shot technique delivering their narratives in “bite-sized boxes.” He underestimates, however, the postmodernist sensibility, and Kitano’s form of it especially, by suggesting that this mode “means that one need not think or feel too often.”

  • Schilling, Mark. “Takeshi, Beat.” In The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture. By Mark Schilling, 254–263. Turnbull, CT: Weatherhill, 1997.

    Schilling considers Beat’s popularity in relation to the history of (then) recent Japanese comedy, with particular attention to and significant detail on the manzai tradition.

  • Schwartz, Robert. “The Beat and the Auteur.” The East 36.6 (March–April 2001): 43–47.

    Schwartz’s no-nonsense introduction to Kitano partitions his subject’s output twice. First, Schwartz distinguishes the TV personality from the filmmaker. Then he subdivides the latter’s films into pre- and post-bike-accident works. For him, Sonatine, Kitano’s masterpiece, embodies the pre-accident attitudes of “no mercy for anyone” and “the random nature of fate” while the later films, starting with Kids Return, increasingly offer second chances, caring protagonists, emotional tours de force.

  • Stephens, Chuck. “Comedy plus Massacre.” Film Comment 31.1 (January–February 1995): 31–34.

    Stephens’ piece combines an insightful appreciation of Kitano’s personae with perceptive reviews of his first four films.

  • Thomas, Benjamin. Takeshi Kitano—Outremarge. Lyon, France: Aléas, 2007.

    Thomas’ 250-page fantasia approaches the filmmaker via a play on words: Kitano’s personae are neither individualistic nor collectivist, neither on the periphery of society (à la marge) nor integrated into it (au sein du clan, specifically here, the yakuza), but “outrageous” (outremarge). Thomas divides his book into two sections. The first, thematic, treats aesthetics, the beach, women (Thomas sees Kitano’s films as a masculine spin on the American melodramas of the first half of the 20th century); the second, Kitano’s films from Violent Cop to Takeshis’.

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