ITALIAN FESTIVAL PREMIERE
t.l. Cittadino K
France, 2021, 73’, Japanese, French
Directed by: Yves Montmayeur
Screenplay: Yves Montmayeur
Photography (color): Yves Montmayeur, Yann Moreau, Stéphane Rossi, Constant Voisin
Editing: Fabien Bouillaud
Music: Higashi Yoko
Producers: Damien Le Boucher, Thierry Tripod
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Michel Temman, Kishimoto Kayoko, Yanagijima Katsumi, Koike Yuriko
Date of First Release in Territory: November 24th, 2021; May 1st, 2022
Filmed by French documentarian Yves Montmayeur, Citizen K is a 73-minutes feature on the life and career of internationally renowned director Takeshi Kitano, who goes by the stage name Beat Takeshi in his immensely prolific career as an actor and TV comic and presenter.
The centerpiece is an interview with Kitano himself, accompanied by footage of him as everything from a cheeky young comic talking about his early days as an elevator boy in a strip club, to his more recent incarnation as a film world elder statesman giving advice to young filmmakers. (Sample: “You shouldn’t sacrifice yourself to cinema…No one gives a damn.”)
With Kitano biographer Michel Temman providing background and a critical overview (“Beat Takeshi is an agent provocateur of Japanese society.”), the film starts with his youth growing up poor in a tough Tokyo neighborhood, where yakuza gangsters roamed the streets. Entering Meiji University in 1966 to study engineering, Kitano became embroiled in the student demonstrations of the time (“We threw rocks and sang protest songs not knowing what the words meant.”), but soon dropped out to become a disciple of Fukami Kenzaburo, the comic star at the above-mentioned club in the raucous Akasaka entertainment district.
In 1974, together with fellow struggling comedian Kaneko Jiro, Kitano launched a manzai (comic duo) act called Two Beats, taking the name Beat Takeshi. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, they rode the wave of a “manzai boom” to the top of the Japanese entertainment world, while Kitano carved out his own identity for his irreverent, taboo-defying humor. Then with Oshima Nagisa’s 1983 World War 2 drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence giving him his first major movie role, as a POW camp guard, he began a parallel career as a serious actor for TV dramas and films. It was, he says, “a tough challenge” since audiences persisted in laughing every time they saw his face on the screen, however villainous his character was.
In 1989 he further added to his resume by directing the hardboiled crime film Violent Cop and playing the title character with a cool implacability that stopped laughs in throats. In subsequent films, particularly his 1993 international breakout Sonatine, Kitano impressed critics with a minimalistic style, often mixed with hardcore violence, that struck them as innovative, though as cinematographer Yanagijima Katsumi notes, “he had no formal training and was not a film buff.”
In 1997 his win of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his cop-on-a-mission film Hana-Bi elevated Kitano into ranks of world-class auteurs, beyond the reach of naysayers who saw his film work as a money-bleeding rich man’s hobby.
All this and more are well known to Kitano fans, but the film’s on-screen observations and insights by Kitano and others add a new dimension to an often-told story. Speaking of his recovery from a 1994 motor-scooter accident that nearly killed him, Kitano says “Having escaped death, I don’t care if I die tomorrow. I don’t put limits on myself – I do what I want.”
Citizen K is vivid and eloquent testimony to how that philosophy of artistic freedom, so unusual in Japanese society in general and the Japanese film world in particular, has produced a one-of-a-kind, world-class body of work.
Born in 1963 in France, Yves Montmayeur began writing as a film critic in 1993 and later worked as a film journalist for television. In 1998 he started directing special film programs, followed by, with Japanese and other Asian filmmakers being a special interest. His 2015 documentary The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin about Canadian director Guy Maddin won the Best Documentary on Cinema Award at the Venice Film Festival. His 2021 documentary Citizen K dropped simultaneously in France and Germany on Arte’s streaming service in March of last year.
2004 – Electric Yakuza: Go to Hell!
2005 – Ghibli and the Miyazaki Mystery
2005 – The Angry Men of Korean Cinema
2006 – In the Mood for Doyle
2009 – Yakuza Eiga, Viva la Muerta!
2011 – Into the Pleasure Dome of Japanese Erotic Cinema
2015 – The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin
2021 – Citizen K.