Dir: Takeshi Kitano. Japan. 2008. 119mins.
Takeshi Kitano’s trilogy looking at his own career, his relations to the industry and cinema itself takes yet another turn in its final part which at first appears to be less self-obsessed than his two previous efforts but soon follows the same repetitious pattern that restricted both Takeshis and Glory To The Filmmaker to a small coterie of ardent admirers. Although festivals and art house will not pass on a Kitano movie, this is a far cry from the potent combination of poetry and violence on which Kitano’s international reputation was built.
After deliberating on the conflicts within his artistic persona in the first instalment of the trilogy and wondering what kind of films he should make in the second, he now explores himself as an artist and his relationship to his art. Despite the glorious symphony of colours he unleashes on the screen and the wicked sense of humour in each character, his theories on what it means to be an artist are far from exhaustive and the form he gives them far too self-indulgent.
Machisu Kuramochi (Reo Yoshioka) starts life as the spoiled child of a millionaire art collector only too proud of his artistic son. When the Kuramochi fortune collapses, Machisu’s parents commit suicide and he is left in the care of his uncle who sends him to an orphanage. Machisu is next seen as a teenager art student (now played by Yurei Yanagi) who is caught up in the confusion of modern art and realizes there’s no point in just painting what he sees but doesn’t know what he should paint instead.
In a series of familiar parodies of the contemporary art world, Machisu and his friends try emulating every fashionable trend they have ever heard of. He meets Sachiko (Kumiko Aso) a young woman who thinks he’s a genius and who offers to do anything to help. She marries him and slaves away to earn the money to pay for his paints, dedicating every minute of her life to his art.
However, nothing that the hard-working Machisu creates is good enough for the art dealer. But even as an older man Machisu (played now by Kitano himself) carries on producing faux Warhols, Lichtensteins, Klees and Miros. Nothing puts him off, not his teenage daughter becoming a prostitute nor his wife leaving in desperation. Art, he feels, is beyond all that.
Kitano’s basic argument is that art is elusive, no one knows exactly what it is or how to appreciate, but it’s run by a bunch of crooks, inventing rules and regulations at will and exploiting the ignorance of the others. Detached from reality, the true artist is possibly a social parasite, possibly too naïve to realise his own talent, easily taken advantage of and cares for nothing but his calling. Ultimately, the process of creating is more important for him than the creation itself and recognition and commercial success are meaningless.
It’s a valid theory, supported by superb camera work and a striking collection of Kitano’s own paintings. But the smooth staging, trademark Kitano deadpan acting and cruel streak of irony do not alleviate the tedium that sets by the time all the evidence has been presented.
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