Kids Return (1996)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Crime Drama, Teen Movie  |   Run Time - 103 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Takeshi Kitano's Kids Return is a fond remembrance of high school shenanigans and a cautionary tale against falling in with the wrong crowd -- a fate that's possible whether following the criminal path of the yakuza, or the lawful path of the boxer. However, a couple aspects of the film (Kitano's first after a serious motorcycle accident) prevent it from being easily received as a straightforward narrative. For starters, Kitano introduces too many characters in the opening minutes, with too little emphasis on which ones to follow. The fact that they're all males dressed in matching school uniforms makes a problem out of this otherwise commendable expository subtlety. The narrative remains somewhat fractured between these characters, making it possible to lose your footing in the film and never fully recover. Distractions and tangents aside, Kids Return basically boils down to two youths attempting to make something of themselves without involving an education. The film doesn't show any ordinary disdain for people who throw their education to the wolves; in fact, in continuing to monitor the upstanding students, Kitano's goal is to show that even they get mired in unsatisfying drudgery. Rather, Kitano examines the fragility of any particular path, judgment aside. Demonstrating an unusual sense of purpose, Masaru (Kenichi Kaneko) pursues boxing, but abandons it after one bad match. Shinji (Masanobu Ando), usually the meeker of the two, finds his own confidence in the boxing ring, only to jeopardize that by heeding the poor advice of another corner-cutter like Masaru. Kids Return is an important work, especially as evidence of Kitano's ability to "return," as it were, from great personal hardship. But it would have benefited from a larger dose of Kitano's famed sense of humor and effortless ability to poke fun at society's conventions.