Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano, 1999) is easily one of my favorite Japanese films. At a time when all I could find was the standard J-Horror on the movie shelves Kikujiro, as a movie of a vastly different genre, was a welcome change to me. As I watched, I was immediately absorbed–which is saying something, sometimes movies don’t hold my attention totally.
After his friends leave for summer vacation, leaving him alone with his grandmother (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) decides to try to find his mother (Yuko Daike), who his grandmother said is away working hard for him. When Masao is found by a former neighbor (Kayoko Kishimoto), she tells him he needs to have someone go with him on his trip. She volunteers her husband, the titular character, Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano).
While traveling together, Kikujiro and Masao come across a collection of helpful strangers: the not-so-tough bikers Fatso (Gureto Gidayu) and Baldy (Rakkyo Ide), and some rather bizarre, not-so-helpful characters, like Scary Man (Akaji Maro) who tries to make Masao undress, as well. Kikujiro and Masao share a wonderful and strange adventure, and learn from each other in the process. When they arrive at their destination, they are quite different from the when they began their adventure, and what awaits them there is far from what anyone can imagine.
This film became a favorite the minute I finished watching it. The story, though it has it’s sad moments, is heartwarming. The bond between Kikujiro and Masao blossoms slowly, but it’s worth the wait.
Takeshi is amazing as Kikujiro, who is a rough around the edges gambler–definitely not someone with paternal instincts (though they do show up!). If he wasn’t “of age” as it were, I’d definitely say this was a coming of age story for Kikijuro as well as Masao.
I recommend this to anyone who has any interest in Japanese film. The DVD is available from Sony Pictures Classics. It is in 1.85: 1 aspect ratio, and has a run time of 116 minutes.