"Beat" Takeshi Kitano is widely considered to be Japan's foremost media personality. In addition to his work in the film industry he is an active newspaper columnist, an author and poet, and a ubiquitous presence on Japanese television where he can be seen in up to eight prime time shows per week.
Kitano first found fame, as well as his "Beat" nickname, in the early '70s as one-half of the manzai comedy duo The Two Beats, a fast-paced, cross-talk act that thrilled audiences with their off-color humor and satirical bite. Throughout the early '80s, Kitano acted in a number of films, most memorably in Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983). He portrayed Sgt. Hara, the jailer of a concentration camp, with a mixture of brutality and pathos, a characterization he would repeat in his later self-directed efforts.
In 1989 Kitano added another facet to his career -- serious film director. He was set to star in a police thriller that was to be directed by gangster film veteran Kinji Fukasaku. When Fukasaku had to leave the film, the film's producers offered Kitano the directing chores. He reworked the script and the result was Violent Cop, a deliriously violent masterpiece that brought him recognition in the international film community. With this film Kitano would introduce his lean directorial style, punctuated by long takes, minimal dialogue, and stark compositions. He would also develop what has become the archetype Kitano persona, the taciturn but oddly likable antihero who is just as likely to speak with his fists as with his voice. This uneasy mix of playful comedy and savage violence would become a trademark in his later crime epics, Boiling Point (1990), Sonatine (1993), and Hana-bi ( winner of the 1997 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion).
Kitano isn't only known for his crime films. In between, he's found the time to make a light drama about a deaf-mute garbage collector who learns to surf (Scene By the Sea ), a slapstick comedy that mercilessly satirizes Japanese culture (Getting Any? ), and a coming-of-age tale about two high school dropouts (Kids Return ).
Kitano's directing career almost ended on August 2, 1994, when he was involved in a near-fatal motorbike accident. Suffering multiple head injuries, he was hospitalized for nearly six weeks and had to endure further months of physical therapy. During his recovery period Kitano played a small role in Takashi Ishii's Gonin (1995), where his hitman character sports a patch over his right eye, a real-life remnant of his brush with death.
Though international release of his previous films found positive critical notice but lukewarm response from mainstream American audiences, the year 2000 found Kitano on the verge of Hollywood success with the release of Brother, Kitano's first international co-production teaming the Japanese auteur with an English speaking cast. The tale of an exiled Japanese yakuza who stakes his claim in the unfamiliar world of Los Angeles, Brother attempted to bring Kitano's trademarked stark violence and subtle humor to a new audience in pairing Kitano with popular American actor Omar Epps.