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The delinquent: Takeshi Kitano rips the Japanese film industry

Takeshi Kitano (right):
Takeshi Kitano (right): “I hate anime” (The Tokyo Reporter)

TOKYO (TR) – The Tokyo International Film Festival on Saturday held a talk event featuring actor-director Takeshi Kitano, the recipient of the inaugural “Samurai Award,” an honor for those who have made consistently groundbreaking films.

At the event, which featured conversations with eight up-and-coming Japanese directors with festival prizes to their credit, a surly Kitano used the platform to express his dissatisfaction with the current state of the Japanese film industry.

“The fact that there are relationships between production companies and theaters is the worst,” said Kitano, 67, attired in a gray suit in a ballroom at the Roppongi Hills complex.

These cozy relationships, said Kitano, who is widely credited with bringing the Japanese gangster film to worldwide prominence, affect how Japanese films are appreciated.

“None of my films have ever been recommended for a (foreign language) Academy Award,” he said. “Though it is frustrating to say here, only films from Toho, Toei, Shochiku and occasionally Nikkatsu win the Japan Academy Prize. Who does the choosing for the (Japan) Academy? I would like to see their hands raised.”

This sort of opinion may be more widely known but “the newspapers don’t mention this because they obtain advertising, so they are not going to say anything bad,” said Kitano, who operates the production and talent agency Office Kitano. (The Asahi Shimbun, on cue, removed this comment about newspapers from its article.)

“The Japanese film industry is in a state of demise,” he said bluntly.

Kitano also lambasted the industry’s output in recent years, which has been largely based on scripts derived from popular manga series or television dramas.

Takeshi Kitano at TIFF
Takeshi Kitano at TIFF

“Film companies don’t have the courage to pay an unknown screenwriter,” he said. “They now have a lack of original screenwriters, and we have a lack of those resources.”

The organizers of the Tokyo festival, which runs through October 31, said previously that one of their goals for this year, the 27th incarnation, is to promote Asian films and support animation — the latter of which is a genre that does not appeal to Kitano in the slightest.

“I hate anime, and Hayao Miyazaki most of all, but his animations make money, so I have respect for that,” Kitano said of the acclaimed director of a string of box-office toppers, including last year’s historical epic “The Wind Rises.”

At the beginning of the discussion, Kitano recalled his origins as a comedian, during which time he worked over a five-year period in bathhouses washing the backs of yakuza gangsters.

The beginning will be a struggle, but one must continue to create, he said.

“I believe there are only a lucky few who come out with hits all of a sudden,” he said. “So, first you need to be able to appreciate that you will be making a living out of what you are doing.”

For Kitano, he got his start in entertainment in stand-up comedy on the stage of the France-za theatre in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. His acting debut came in the World War II film “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence” in 1983. Six years later, he directed his first feature, “Violent Cop,” in which Kitano himself stars as an officer who battles gangsters while breaking all the rules.

Foreign audiences first became aware of Kitano in 1993 with the film “Sonatine,” in which Kitano stars as a yakuza in Tokyo who goes to Okinawa to engage in a gang war. That year, the film screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Kitano believes that now it is easier than ever for new directors to get started in the industry.

“Maybe with friends or partners you will be able to sincerely create something that you love,” he said, “and in the age of the digital camera, you will be able to create a low-budget film, but you need to delineate in your mind a way to show that you have directorial or acting prowess.”

Tony Rayns, Takeshi Kitano and Christian Jeune
Tony Rayns, Takeshi Kitano and Christian Jeune

Kitano was also joined by two jury members of this year’s Tokyo festival, Christian Jeune, the director of the film department at the Cannes International Film Festival, and Tony Rayns, a writer and festival programmer.

Given their pedigrees, it was not surprising that both guests feel that the real future of cinema lies in the independent sector — which, for Japan, was well represented on stage.

“I don’t have a key for you; you have to find your own key,” Jeune said. “You have to find your own way to tell a story through a medium which is cinema — never forget that it is cinema. There is no magical recipe. Otherwise everybody would be successful.”

Kitano’s final advice to the young directors on the stage could have been uttered by the lead character he played in “Violent Cop.”

“You can be a delinquent,” he said, “you don’t have to be a goodie goodie.”