A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Hana-bi, the first of a series of films by acclaimed Japanese director Takeshi Kitano that are being re-released on Blu-ray by Third Window Films. The second of these films is Kikujiro, a light-hearted but bitter sweet tale about an eccentric middle-aged man accompanying a lonely young boy on a journey to see his estranged mother.
It’s the summer holidays and Masao, with no one to play with and spending his days alone in his grandmother’s house, decides he’s going to visit his mother who’s working in another town far away. Armed only with his rucksack and an address on a scrap of paper, he sets out but is quickly stopped by a family friend who insists he is accompanied by her eccentric partner, Kikujiro. So, does this man get Masao straight on the bus? No, he takes him gambling, to a hostess club and causes havoc and racks up expensive hotel bills then refuses to pay. Through a series of failed hitch-hiking attempts, orchestrated largely by Kikujiro either roughing up Masao or posing as a blind man, they somehow manage to make their way towards Masao’s mother.
Kikujiro, released in Japan in 1999, isn’t just a film about a hilarious and disaster-prone road trip. It’s also an unapologetic look at growing up and how difficult it is to be a child. As Masao and Kikujiro meet a colourful cast of characters, from unlikely bikers ‘Fatso’ and ‘Baldy’ to some fairground mobsters, Masao realises he isn’t so alone and Kikujiro gets glimpses of where he might have gone wrong earlier in his life.
I don’t want to delve any more into the plot because “I don’t want to take any surprises away from the reader” (yeah, I’ve used that line a lot) but I will say that this film has Takeshi Kitano’s eccentricity written all over it – namely the slapstick humour, the loveable characters and the drug-like trances of half-naked prancing men that Masao falls into. I actually enjoyed Kikujiro more than Hana-bi because it’s just that little bit crazier and more light-hearted, although both are brilliant films and worth a watch.
The one problem I had with the plot of the film – Masao’s grandmother agrees to him heading out with Kikujiro on the assumption they’re just taking a trip to the beach. Given how long their road trip takes, I couldn’t stop wondering if she’d called the police to report a missing child!
Kikujiro is available to buy on Blu-Ray from Third Window Films now!