[director Takeshi Kitano]
Cast: Masanobu Ando, Ken Kaneko, Leo Morimoto, Hatsuo Yamaya
“Beat” Takeshi Kitano’s sweet, even delicate reminiscence on his high-school days is great. It’s on a par with his more experimental work. The movie follows a pair of no good thugs as they play pranks, grow apart as friends, excel in different fields (one becomes a boxer, the other, a gangster), and then fall from grace. Most of the characters mishaps are due to their own awkwardness and stupidity, but what could have been a rough, downbeat film is played for laughs in true Beat Takeshi style; violence and pain become humor and nostalgia in this alarmingly good-natured picture.
The emotional nature of this picture, which identified it as a “different direction” for the director was perhaps due to Kitano’s brush with death on a motorcycle prior to this film being written. In what Kitano jokingly referred to as an “unconscious suicide attempt,” he was flipped over and dragged, paralyzing half of his face. Kitano did not appear in Kids Return (possibly in part because of the neural damage from the accident, but also possibly because he simply didn’t write in a part for himself), but his next film, Hana-bi starred the now partially facially paralyzed writer/editor/director/actor/comedian. Hana-bi would be Kitano’s masterpiece. Kids Return is fun and nostalgic, but it is Hana-bi that is the director’s truly great work so far.