Takeshi Kitano’s Takeshis’ was Kitano On Kitano, an attempt to turn a mirror on himself, and it works. Kantoku Banzai is Kitano On Kitano Yet Again, where he not only deconstructs his own career as a director but Japanese cinema in general as we have been forced to know it lately. The problem with the movie is simple: it isn’t funny.
There’s a good deal more that’s wrong with this film, actually. It’s gratuitous, insular, and boring on top of being not funny, but any one of those problems would have been solved by it being funny in the first place. Or entertaining, or even genuinely insightful for more than a couple of minutes at a time—something Banzai tries to do, fitfully, only to run aground over and over again. It’s clearly an attempt by Kitano to do a creative end run around his inability to bring an idea to fruition, any idea, but that doesn’t make this thing any more bearable. It’s the cinematic version of a beached whale, which thrashes about for 105 minutes and is then blown up to be put out of its misery.
The first half of the film throws off a few sparks. Kitano, playing himself (who else?), lugs around a lifesize manga-esque mannequin of himself and ambles through one deliberately cheesy spoof version after another of various films he could be making. He tries romance, ninja/samurai action, science fiction, his old standby gangster pictures, and even tearjerkers—all the staples of modern-day Japanese blockbuster moviemaking—only to toss them all aside. He could make movies like this if he wanted to—and he’s demonstrated that he can—but he doesn’t, and so he’s thrashing around trying to find something that will please both himself and his audiences. It’s a little like channel-surfing the Kitano Network, only to realize there are indeed fifty-seven channels and nothing on.
I like some of the points Kitano makes in this first half, but he shoots himself in the foot at least as often. At one point he makes what looks like an Always Sunset on Third Street-style “nostalgia movie”, but backs away from it because it’s too violent (which seems a weirdly self-important stance to take). His jab at black-and-white, Yasujiro Ozu-style social realism is briefly amusing, but it amounts to a cheap shot at a filmmaker Kitano’s admitted he doesn’t find very interesting. This whole channel-switching sequence goes on long after it’s made its point, and the symbolism is crashingly obvious, too: Kitano’s tired of the effort of lugging himself around—that is, being Takeshi Kitano, with all the baggage that goes with it—but there just isn’t anyone else for him to be, y’know?
If the film is shapeless but occasionally interesting, the second half is shapeless, period. It’s an incomprehensible nonsense-comedy story involving a mother-and-daughter pair of scam artists who get caught up in the circles of Kitano’s character. It’s all the kind of pratfall humor that Kitano used on his TV shows and in his other shapeless comedy-anthology movie Getting Any? As dumb as that movie was, I confess to laughing almost nonstop through it, but the gags in Banzai are terribly stale. And then there’s an ending which hearkens back to the old Hollywood trick that the best way to send people out of the theater is to blow something up. I had to wonder if he was channeling Takashi Miike as a capper to all the other movie trends he was ticking off, and more out of desperation than anything else.
I can’t count Kitano completely out. He’s trying, when it feels like whole swaths of the Japanese film industry (and the film industry, period) have given up and are just cranking out product to fill an ever-more-ravenous pipeline. But watching him deconstruct himself only makes for an all the more urgent reminder that he, of all people, needs to come down out of the treehouse of his creative neuroses and get working.amazon-alt=61hHoWUhfGL