Takeshi Kitano blasts one and all as he accepts award at Tokyo film festival

Japanese film icon Takeshi "Beat" Kitano recently appeared on stage to take questions from the audience at the ongoing Tokyo International Film Festival, after being given the first-ever Samurai Award for cultural achievement. -- PHOTO: AFP
Japanese film icon Takeshi "Beat" Kitano recently appeared on stage to take questions from the audience at the ongoing Tokyo International Film Festival, after being given the first-ever Samurai Award for cultural achievement. -- PHOTO: AFP

Japanese film icon Takeshi "Beat" Kitano recently appeared on stage to take questions from the audience at the ongoing Tokyo International Film Festival, after being given the first-ever Samurai Award for cultural achievement.

The 67-year-old maker of hard-boiled, blackly comic crime thrillers Violent Cop (1989), Outrage (2010) and the sequel Outrage Beyond (2012) as well as more drama-based works as A Scene At The Sea (1991) and Kids Return (1996) answered questions from budding film-makers and animators.

He was characteristically blunt as he blasted the elites who control the Japanese film industry.

Takeshi, who rose to fame in Japan as a comedian and television host before he became known as a film-maker, joked about how odd it was that such a prestigious prize like the Samurai Award was being given to the likes of him.

"I've been given awards for being a comedian and I have a criminal record, so really, my life is a stain on the history of Japanese film. I am truly honoured," said Kitano.

His awards record overseas is also impressive. He won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Fireworks (1997), the first-ever win for a Japanese film-maker.  

Answering a question from a film student about what he would do if he had to make a low-budget film today, Kitano said that young and independent film-makers have to be "shocking to society, to a certain degree" to gain attention.

Giving an example, he said that if he were asked to do a movie about the theme of comfort women, he might turn the idea on its head.

"I would keep the title Comfort Women but make it about comfort men. That would be shocking," he said.

He told the students in the audience to get ready for years of struggle. When he started in show business, it took five years to land a gig that paid well enough for him to quit other work.

"So I worked at a cafe and at a sauna, cleaning the backs of yakuza gangsters. I did that for five years before I could quit to become a full-time stand-up comic. This is true of any industry. There are just a lucky few who start out with a hit."

When foreign media talk about Japanese cultural exports, Kitano's name is often mentioned alongside that of Academy Award winner Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, maker of universally acclaimed films such as My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001). 

Kitano allowed that animation was a huge force in the domestic film business, and was popular overseas, but he had never been a fan of the medium.

"I not not enjoy watching animation. I really don't like Miyazaki's films," he said.

Next, he launched into a scathing critique of the defensive, moribund state of the Japanese movie industry. Because the major film studios are closely allied with cinema chains, or even part of the same company, innovation and risk-taking is frowned on, he said.

Young film-makers should look outside the major studios if they want to create original work, he said.

He went on about how in Japan, newspapers report about the Cannes Film Festival speak of rapturous receptions for Japanese movies from major studios, when the truth was that "of the five people in the audience, four stood up to clap, and they were there for only 15 minutes of the screening", he said to laughter from the crowd of about 700 at the hall in Academy Hills building in the Roppongi area of Tokyo.

Kitano said his films have never been nominated as Japan's offical entry to the Academy Awards in the Foreign Language category because a handful of top executives at the major studios lobby for for their own output to be sent to Los Angeles.

"This really irritates me... it's ridiculous that the nominees come from only three or four studios. This (kind of protective behaviour) is going to kill the Japanese film industry. And the newspapers won't write about films from smaller companies because it's the big studios that buy the advertisements."