(1999)3Jonathan CrowFor Western audiences familiar with Takeshi Kitano's renowned yakuza sagas, Kikujiro, a buoyant surrealist road movie will be something of a surprise. Fearing that he would be type-cast abroad as a director of gangster flicks, Kitano skews most of the two-fisted motifs of his previous work and directs a film that consciously recalls The Wizard of Oz. The result is Kitano's most mainstream film since his sex-farce Getting Any, while at the same time being one of his most experimental movies. Kitano's best known works, Sonatine and Hana-Bi, brilliantly present a world infused with jarring violence and existential sadness edged with sentimentality. In this film, the violence is almost completely absent from the film, though sadness and sentimentality is here in abundance. With his trademark concision, the film elegantly sets up Masao's feelings of loneliness and isolation in a matter that echoes that of the Italian Neorealists. Yet once on the road, time and realism goes out the window; the viewer is left unclear as to whether the events in the film are unfolding over a of couple days, weeks, or months. Though no one seems to be carrying baggage, characters somehow manage to assemble delightfully-ludicrous costumes. The plot itself is a series of comic diversions highlighting Kikujiro abrasive buffoonery, built around Masao's search for his mother. When that quest goes sour, Kikujiro manages to fashion increasingly bizarre and funny scenarios, much of which seems drawn straight from Kitano's popular late-night comedy show in Japan, in an effort to dull Masao's rejection. Just as the comic flourishes in Hana-Bi added pathos and emotional depth to that film, the wild comedy of this film adds resonance to the boy's pain and loss. Sentimental and sad, self-indulgent and often hilarious, Kikujiro is an interesting and entertaining yarn by one of cinema's most distinctive voices.