Kikujiro (1999)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxld

Kikujiro is a heart-warming comedy with an amazing soundtrack by Miyazaki regular Joe Hisaishi about a foul-mouthed ex-Yakuza asked to accompany a quiet neighborhood boy to visit they boy’s mother who has abandoned him. On their journey, the man and boy meet up with some interesting characters, have a few adventures, and discover that they are not so different after all.  

Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) is a lonely little boy who lives with his grandmother and finds himself with nothing to do for summer vacation. Kikujiro (played by Kitano and whose name is only uttered once at the very end of the film) and his wife live in the neighborhood and pretty much just hang out all day. When Masao decides to go visit his mother who has abandoned him, Kikujiro’s wife sends him along to watch over the boy on the long journey (and probably to get rid of him for the summer.) 

In the beginning, Kikujiro takes advantage of the boy and uses him for gambling and to hitch rides. After a series of mishaps, all of which are the fault of Kikujiro, the pair arrives at their destination with unpredicted results. 

It is at this point in the film that things really take off. It turns out that Kikujiro has some maternal issues of his own and soon realizes that he and the boy share a lot in common. The boy is becoming a man and the man is getting in touch with his inner child. The two spend the rest of the film with two kind-hearted bikers and a traveling poet they have met on the road playing children’s games, fishing, stealing crops from nearby farms and camping out in beautifully photographed rural Japan at the height of summer complete with cicadas whirring away in the background. It is largely through the wonderful performances that writer/director Takeshi Kitano has perfectly captured what it is to be a kid. They have no money, very little food, no video games or tech of any kind and still manage to have the best time of their lives playing in the woods. 

Of course, there is also the painful side of childhood and in this film, as in life, it boils down to the fact children are very often at the mercy of adults. One scene even features Kikujiro putting the smack-down on a would-be pedophile with designs on Masao. 

There is a lot of symbolism involving angels in this film, with artwork painted by the director intercut throughout although it was hard to distinguish which character is supposed to be the savior of whom. Both man and boy give each other something they need to make each other’s lives richer. 

This is a wonderful film that is sure to leave the viewer feeling warm and tingly inside. It is a testament to the prolific talent of Takeshi Kitano that he can just as easily make a film of this nature as he can a violent Yakuza story.  

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