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Kitano Takeshi

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Kitano Takeshi (北野 武) (born January 18, 1947) is a Japanese actor, author, poet, painter and filmmaker who has received acclaim both in his native Japan and abroad for his highly idiosyncratic cinematic work.

His films are usually dramas about gangsters or police, characterized as being highly deadpan[?] to the point of near-stasis. He often uses long takes where nothing appears to be happening, or with edits that cut immediately to the aftermath of an event. Many of his films express a bleak or nihilistic philosophy, but they are also filled with a great deal of humor and remarkable affection for their characters.

Born in Tokyo in 1947, Kitano originally went to a trade-oriented high school to study engineering, but was expelled for being rebellious and unruly. He found work as an elevator operator in a nightclub, and learned a great deal about the business from the comedian Senzaburo Fukami[?]. When one of the club's regular performers fell ill, Kitano took over in his place, and started his career.

He later formed a comic duo with a friend nicknamed Beat Hiroshi, and took on the stage name Beat Takeshi; together they referred to themselves as Two-Beat. This sort of duo stand-up comedy, known as manzai in Japan, usually features a great deal of high-speed back-and-forth patter between the two performers. Two-Beat dissolved when Kitano decided to go solo, but they were one of the most successful acts of their kind during the late Seventies and Eighties.

Many of Kitano's routines involved him as a gangster or other "heavy," and his first major film role, Nagisa Oshima[?]'s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence[?] (where he starred opposite Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Bowie) featured him as a sadistic POW camp seargeant during WWII.

After several other roles, mostly comedic, in 1989 he was cast in the lead for Sono otoko, kyobo ni tsuki[?] (その男、凶暴につき) ("Warning, This Man Is Violent", released with the English title Violent Cop), as the sociopathic detective Azuma, a Dirty Harry[?] type whose single-mindedness leads him to self-destruction when his sister is kidnapped by gangsters, and who responds to every situation with violence. When the original director fell ill, Kitano offered to step in in his place, and rewrote the script heavily. The result was a financial and critical success in Japan.

Kitano's second film as director and first film as screenwriter, released in 1990, was 3-4x Jugatsu[?] (3-4X10月) (literally, "Third and Fourth of October", but released with the English title Boiling Point). In it, Masahiko Ono[?] starred as a shiftless young man, a member of a losing local baseball team, whose coach is threatened by a local yakuza. He teams up with a friend to go to Okinawa and buy guns so they can get revenge, but along the way they drift into Uehara (Kitano)'s orbit, with unsettling results. Kitano's trademark black humor suffuses the film in many ways: at one point, the boy finally does get a gun, but shoots out the windshield of his girlfriend's car by mistake. The film also featured comedian Minoru Iizuka[?], also known as Dankan[?], who would become a Kitano regular.

Kitano's third film, Ano natsu, ichiban shizukana umi[?] (あの夏、いちばん静かな海), from 1992, featured no gangsters, but was instead a simple story about a deaf garbage collector Kuroudo Maki[?] who is determined to learn how to surf, and does so almost at the expense of the girl he loves. Kitano's more delicate, romantic side came to the fore here, along with his trademark deadpan approach.

Sonatine[?] (1993) was widely acclaimed as Kitano's best film. Kitano plays Murakawa, a Tokyo yakuza who is sent by his boss to Okinawa to help end a gang war there. Murakawa is tired of gangster life, and when he finds out the whole mission is a ruse, he welcomes what comes with open arms. The film combines many scenes of sudden, unexpected violence -- such as a shoot-out[?] in a bar -- with other moments of great tenderness, like a make-believe sumo match on the beach.

Minna Yatteruka![?] (みんあ やってるか!) (1995) showed Kitano returning to his comedic roots. This Airplane!-like assemblage of comedic scenes, all centering loosely around a Walter Mitty[?]-type (Dankan) trying to have sex in a car, met with little acclaim in Japan. Much of the film satirizes popular Japanese culture, such as Ultraman or Godzilla, and even Kitano's own gangster movies.

In 1995, Kitano was involved in a motorcycle accident and suffered injuries that caused the paralysis of one side of his body, and required extensive surgery to regain the use of his facial muscles. (The severity of his injuries was apparently due to him not fastening the chin strap on his helmet.) After recovering, he went on to make Kids Return[?] in 1996, a film about two high school dropouts who try to find a direction and meaning in their lives -- one by becoming a yakuza lieutenant, the other by becoming a boxer.

Kitano also started to paint pictures in a bright, simplified style reminiscent of Marc Chagall; many of his pantings have published in books and featured in gallery exhibitions, and adorn the covers of many of the soundtrack albums for his films.

His paintings also figured heavily in his next (1997) film, Hana-bi[?] (花火) (Fireworks), which starred Kitano as a policeman. His character quits the force and tries to find solace with his dying wife after his partner is paralyzed in a shootout, but he cannot escape the consequences of his past actions. As with his other films that featured gangsters or police, there is sudden violence (as when a thug gets a chopstick shoved into his eye), but there is also great tenderness (as in the last scene, where Kitano's character plays on the beach with a teenaged girl and her kite). The paralyzed policeman, played by Ren Osugi[?] (another Kitano regular), turns to painting as a way to find meaning in what's left of his life, and all the paintings shown in the film are Kitano's own creations.

Kitano has continued to work regularly since his accident. Kikujiro[?] (菊次郎の夏), released in 1999, featured Kitano as a ne'er-do-well gangster who winds up paired up with a young boy looking for his mother, and goes on a series of misadventures with him. Brother[?] (2000), shot in Los Angeles, had Kitano as a deposed Tokyo yakuza setting up a drug empire in L.A. with the aid of Denny (Omar Epps[?]). Dolls[?] (2002) had Kitano directing but not starring in a film with three different stories about undying love.

Kitano also stars regularly in other films. Among his most significant roles were Nagisa Oshima's Gohatto[?] (御法度) (Taboo) (1999), where he played Captain Toshizo Hijikata of the Shinsengumi[?]; and "Kitano" in Battle Royale (film) (2000), a controversial Japanese blockbuster film about a bleak dystopian future where a group of teenagers are randomly selected each year to kill each other on a deserted island. He also appeared in the film adaptation of William Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic, although his on-screen time was greatly reduced for the American edit of the film.

Kitano has also been a prolific author, and has written over fifty books of poetry, film criticism, and several novels, a few of which have also been adapted into movies by other directors.

He is a regular collaborator with composer Jo Hisaishi[?], who has created the scores for most of his films.

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