Quit playing gangster!
The 1999 Cannes Festival gem Kikujiro is another quirky but striking gem from legendary Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano.Still amidst the relatively rare number of his features that don’t focus on Yakuza gangsters shooting each other, Kikujiro wooed Festival audiences in much the same way that his superb Hana-Bi did just two years earlier, cementing his success with warmer, more offbeat affairs, with its Wizard of Oz road movie voyage of self-discovery. Following a little boy who sets off one day to see his mother – who works hundreds of miles away and sends home money – and the cantankerous middle-aged man who gets reluctantly enlisted to accompany him, Kikujiro is a quirky and unpredictable indie gem which tackles some surprisingly tough subject matter with subtlety and sincerity, with natural character development over the contrivance we’re normally used to.To that end its pacing is understandably languid, relishing every moment that this unlikely pair share, the trouble they get into; the crazy antics; the silly games; and the heartbreak, and the natural pacing which allows for such character evolution will also undoubtedly be off-putting for many. Most Kitano fans should, however, be able to see the utter love at work in this gem from the director. It’s telling that it’s named after his own father; Kitano frames every shot with striking visual acuity, and elicits arguably the most rousing, heart-warming, heart-string-tugging score collaborator-composter Joe Hisaishi has ever done for him, whilst telling possibly one of his most personal tales of self-discovery, growing up, friends, family and identity.
Picture QualityPursuant to Office Kitano’s recent 2K remastering of the 1999 cult favourite, Third Window’s Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release promotes the film with a strong and faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.
Kikujiro was never destined to excel, whatever the format, but 17 years on and it arguably looks the best it’s ever been.
Detail is pleasing, picking up on skin textures and background details, whilst making the more strikingly framed sequences stand out even more. Nonetheless, it’s far from a perfect image, even remastered in 2K, and you have to make a lot of allowances. Whilst it doesn’t suffer from the glimmers of damage seen on its predecessor’s release (Hana-Bi), it’s otherwise near-identical in terms of general solid quality but light problems in all main areas. Softness creeps into near every shot, despite the upgrade to HD, and the colour scheme is far from vibrant and vivid, but stable image quality and a decent rendition of the tones picked up on originally leave this a faithful representation of the source material.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is a similarly strong – unexceptional – but faithful effort.
Promoting the original Japanese audio in HD for the first time, Kikujiro ultimately stands out due to longterm Kitano collaborator Joe Hisaishi’s striking, defining score, a playful yet heartfelt, and utterly emotive accompaniment. Dialogue remains firmly prioritised across the frontal array, and decent English subtitles run concurrently, whilst effects are naturally reproduced, but it’s the piano-dominated, sweeping, orchestral score that gets the most room to breathe and remains the highlight.
Blu-ray ExtrasThere's only one extra, but it's a good one: a feature-length Documentary - Making Of (Jam Session Official Bootleg of Kikujiro) which runs at over an hour and a half in length. Although not promoted in great quality (it even has a disclaimer clarifying that), it's great background material, featuring a substantial amount of behind the scenes material from the shoot, following the cast and crew as they work their magic.
With a hefty accompanying 'making-of' and stylish specially-commissioned slipcase artwork, Third Window round out a decent package.
Aside from the extras the first 1000 copies of the Blu-ray come with a limited edition slipcase featuring innovative, specially-commissioned artwork for the movie (as was the case for Hana-Bi, and will also be the case in the subsequent Third Window / Kitano releases).
Blu-ray VerdictKikujiro is the second of five Kitano films making their UK Blu-ray debut this year.
Reportedly, director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) was heavily involved in the backing of this (and the other) Kitano releases by Third Window; far more than just his promoting tweets would suggest. However this turn of events came about, with this the second in five Kitano titles prepped for UK Blu-ray debut following on from 2K remasters by Office Kitano in Japan, fans of the legendary director should be rejoicing right about now.
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